After being silent for the last couple of years, the Somali pirates have struck once again.
On April 1, they captured a dhow and its 11 Indian crew members off the coast of Somalia. It is the second such incident within two weeks in the area after a lull of nearly five years when piracy on the high seas was on the ebb.
The attack on the dhow took place on Saturday in the narrow channel between Yemen’s Socotra Island and the Somali coast. The Indian government confirmed on April 3 that pirates were taking the vessel, with 11 sailors onboard, to the Eyl area on northern Somalia. The dhow, a traditional wooden ship, was on its way from Dubai to Bosaso in Somalia. While the EU naval forces said that it was an Indian vessel, the US Navy’s 5th Fleet (one of several countries patrolling the area) claimed that they were “aware of the reports and are monitoring the situation”.
Piracy in the region peaked in 2010-11. Since then, the region has remained mostly peaceful. On March 13, pirates hijacked a tanker (Aris 13) and it was the first such seizer of a commercial vessel since 2012. Later, pirates released the vessel and its Sri Lankan crew members, saying that their attack was not for ransom, but against illegal fishing.
In the past, Somalis, living on the coast, complained of harassment by illegal foreign trawlers. They said that over-fishing by trawlers, mainly from Yemen, China, India, Iran and Djibouti, hurt livelihoods of coastal Somali people. That is why Somali pirates enjoy strong community support and hold captured crews for long periods in “safe heavens” during ransom talks.
The Somali piracy began soon after the fall of Said Barre government in 1991. The first recorded hijacking for ransom occurred in 1994, when two ships were hijacked and held for USD 500,000 apiece. In its latest report, the UN says that piracy’s cost to the global economy is USD 18 billion per year. Since January 2005, an average annual ransom of roughly USD 53 billion has been paid to pirates.
As far as India’s anti-piracy efforts are concerned, the South Asian nation joined anti-piracy operations in 2008. India decided to join the anti-piracy efforts after the hijacking of a Japanese-own merchant vessel “MV Stolt Valor” with 18 Indians among 22 sailors onboard in August 2008. The Indian Navy’s anti-piracy patrols were sent to the Gulf of Aden in October 2008 to escort international merchant traffic. The Indian Navy escorted merchant ships mainly along the international corridors and not so much in local waters. New Delhi has claimed that the Indian Navy has escorted more than 3,100 merchant vessels, including foreign-flagged ships, till date and more than 23,000 Indians onboard these merchant ships have been escorted safely.
Effective on December 1, 2015, the limits of piracy’s high risk area was revised. Earlier, India’s western coast was included in the high risk area, but the review removed that classification for the stretch.