After a six-year lull, Somali pirates struck twice last week with the seizure of two boats in the Red Sea, adding to the turmoil in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes after missile and drone attacks from Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The attacks increase pressure on international shipping companies to follow the lead of Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd and abandon the route to the Suez Canal and reroute vessels around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. If oil companies do likewise, the price of oil could increase as Europe enters the cold winter months.
On Friday night, Somali pirates hijacked a commercial dhow in the waters off the Yemeni island of Socotra – once a haven for pirates. It is believed to be en route to Eyl, a coastal town in Somalia‘s semi-autonomous Puntland region where militants from Al Shabab, Al Qaeda’s wealthiest affiliate, are in control. They dislodged a small group of rival ISIS backers from the town in a recent battle, creating speculation they are involved in the hijackings and will offer the pirates protection in return for a cut of any loot.
A few days earlier, Somali pirates operating from speed boats off Puntland captured the MV Reun, a Malta-registered cargo vessel, and took 18 crew members hostage. Sources close to the hijackers and Al Shabab say ransom negotiations are under way with the ship’s owners.
The sources confirmed one pirate was injured and 17 other pirates are still on board the vessel.
Several foreign warships, led by an Indian vessel taking part in a Red Sea protection squadron, are in pursuit of the pirates but have failed to prevent them from steering the vessel towards the coast of Somalia.
“The MV Reun is now being held in a remote coastal location between Qandala and Haabow. The pirates have agreed to a 70-30 ransom-sharing agreement with Al Shabab to provide them with extra protection on MV Reun,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a resident with links to the pirate gang.
“Negotiations have started between the pirates and ship owners,” he added.
The renewed hijackings come after Yemeni Houthi rebels targeted ships with links to Israel in retaliation to the ongoing military offensive by Israel on the Gaza Strip, leading the US to send warships to the area to protect shipping.
Political tensions in Puntland ahead of elections in January might have also encouraged the re-emergence of the pirates.
“This time, the pirates now hunting ships are mostly aggrieved fishermen. The Puntland administration has awarded around 300 licences to Iranian boats fishing in Puntland,” security analyst Abdi Ali said by telephone from Mogadishu.
He said local fishermen complain that they are being harassed by the Iranian boats, which have much more sophisticated equipment and are making it difficult for them to make a living.
Egypt’s Suez Canal provides the shortest link between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic and is the favoured route for many ships sailing to Europe and North America from Asia and Australia. This makes the Gulf of Aden an attractive place for pirates.
“Another smaller dhow has also been hijacked by another group of pirates today and taken to Eyl along the Indian Ocean and there are also other pirates currently in the deep-sea hunting for more ships,” Mohamed, the Eyl resident, said on Sunday. “More will certainly come soon.”
Between 2008 and 2018, pirates freely prowled the waters off Somalia, hijacking ships along the longest coastline in Africa. It took the combined efforts of multinational antipiracy maritime missions to stop them. The leaders retired, many to new homes built with the proceeds of their business along the northern Somali coastline, while others moved into commercial fishing.