Thursday, August 27, 2020

As Final Pirate Captives Released Rumours of Another Attack Prove False

Five Year Captivity Comes to an End
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – IRAN – Just a few years ago our news pages creaked under the weight of pirate stories emanating from Somalia and the Indian Ocean. Tales of terror, horror and bravery appeared on a daily basis, whilst now it is Brexit and Covid-19 that dominate the trade press after the introduction of Best Practice protocols and an efficient response from naval forces such as EU Navfor Operation Atalanta, and armed guards aboard merchantmen effectively ended the crimes.

On occasion since we have mentioned the ‘forgotten few’, the members of the crew of the Iranian fishing vessel Siraj, taken by pirates on 22 March 2015. Originally allegedly the crew were twenty one in number with Iranian reports stating eight had died, five escaped, four were freed by Iranian forces. One man was released after negotiations by the Hostage Support Partnership in September last year and now the last three captives have just been released according to local news sources.

Estimates put the total number of hostages taken from ships in the decade to this year at 2,300. Upon the latest release Response Coordinator of the pro-bono, volunteer partnership, John Steed MBE, said:

"This marks the end of an era of Somali piracy and the pain and suffering of Somalia's forgotten hostages,"

The news came as a story that another ship, the Panamanian registered tanker Aegean II had been seized together with 20 crew. This however turned out to be local police boarding the ship after she suffered damage due to wave damage and she is now reportedly on her way again with the ESPS Santa Maria, a Spanish warship from the EU force accompanying her.

There still remains an air of mystery over the case however as, after the EU ship went to investigate the reason for the diversion, her crew were told by the ships Master of ‘certain incidents’ which had occurred aboard the Aegean II, which carries a complement of armed guards. The naval forces confirmed that, at this point, the event cannot be classified as a maritime security event, but a more detailed investigation is apparently in progress.

Photo: The ESPS Santa Maria rests in the background as her crew board the Aegean II to investigate. Courtesy EU Navfor.