Under PMPF protection, the Aris 13 was proceeding to the Somali port city of Bosasso.
On 13th March, pirates had hijacked the vessel with her eight crew. At the time, she was sailing to Mogadishu from Djibouti. The ship was seized about 18 km off the northern tip of Somalia.
This incident marked the first hijacking of a merchant vessel since the height of Somali piracy in 2012.
EU NAVFOR had confirmed that the vessel, the Master and crew were being held captive by armed pirates in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula.
The eight crew members on board are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals.
While the number of piracy incidents has fallen to nearly zero in recent years, the threat of piracy in the region has persisted, as many of the conditions that enabled piracy to originally flourish are still present. For this reason, last November, the European Council extended Operation Atalanta’s counter-piracy mandate until 31st December, 2018.
In the wake of the attack, IMO secretary general Kitack Lim urged the shipping industry to apply diligently IMO guidance and best management practices to avert possible piracy attacks.
“While we have seen a very welcome decline in piracy off Somalia since the last reported hijack by Somali pirates in 2012, the reality is that piracy off the coast of Somalia has not been eradicated and the underlying conditions have not changed. Merchant shipping should continue to take protective measures against possible piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean through diligent application of IMO guidance and Best Management Practices,” Lim said.
Although piracy has been largely contained, Somali pirates have continued to attempt to hijack ships, but less frequently. The most recent reported attempted attack in the region was on the UK flagged product tanker ‘CPO Korea’ in October, 2016. In that incident, the ship was reported safe after the attack failed.
Gerry Northwood OBE, COO at MAST, commented: "With the current political situation in Somalia and the increasing confidence of those transiting through the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, it was very likely that such an attack was going to occur.
“The characteristics of the hijack are similar to some of the early piracy activity we saw around 2005, and those responsible will have analysed the changing economic and political situation around them and decided that now was an opportune time to launch an attack.
"Whilst this vessel was almost certainly a soft target, those who orchestrated the attack would have been acutely aware of the decreasing military presence in the area and the increasing numbers of ships, which are not sufficiently capable of defending themselves against a hijack. We have always said that the intent and capability to make such attacks remains as high as ever within the coastal Somali communities and that they will return to the business model which proved so lucrative for them in the past if presented with an opportunity.
"The international community can ill afford the Indian Ocean to again become a hotspot for criminal pirate activity. It is a vital trading route into Europe and those ships and crew transiting it need to be protected, as it is the seafarers working in the region who are the ultimate victim of such activity,” he said.
Elsewhere, It was announced last week that as of May, 2017, Philippines, Malaysia & Indonesia will launch joint piracy patrols in the Sulu Sea.
George Devereese, UK P&I Club loss prevention adviser, said: “Since August last year, there has been a rise in the amount of kidnappings and assaults on local small craft, international pleasure craft and smaller international trading vessels operating in the area.
“This has been linked to the local terrorist organisation, Abu Sayyaf, who run a kidnap-for-ransom network and have recently pledged their alliance to so called Islamic State. They currently hold over 31 hostages, including six Vietnamese seafarers taken from their vessel off southern Philippines last month, according to local military intelligence.
“To prevent the rise of ‘Somalia-type’ piracy in the area the three nations have agreed on intelligence sharing and patrolling of the area. We urge members to be aware of the current and developing situation in the area and prepare their vessels accordingly,” he said.
Last week, Control Risks had reported an 83% decrease in maritime hijackings globally in 2016, compared with the previous year.
This was driven by a significant decline in hijackings for cargo and bunkers in Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Guinea, following improvements in regional law enforcement.
In stark contrast to the decline in hijackings, maritime kidnappings increased by 44% worldwide last year, driven by an increase in the Gulf of Guinea, compared with 2015, and an unprecedented number of offshore abductions in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
Another evolving trend in 2016 was the significant increase in cases where militants or terrorists targeted port infrastructure, naval and commercial vessels or offshore platforms. Libya and Yemen accounted for most of these, with several high-profile attacks recorded.