Somali pirates hijack first vessel since 2017, a day before freeing Iranian hostages
Somali pirates allegedly hijacked their first ship since 2017 according to regional reports on Wednesday, the day before releasing three Iranian hostages held for five years.
The Iranians were the last to be released from the crew of the Tehran-flagged fishing boat FV Siraj, captured by pirates in March 2015, apparently marking the end for a decade-long era of Somali piracy.
Between 2010 and 2019, Somali pirates held over 2,300 crew.
John Steed, the coordinator of a a Nairobi-based volunteer organsation which helps rescue crews abandoned by their employers, told Reuters said that the release of the hostages ushered the end of "the pain and suffering of Somalia's forgotten hostages".
Yet reports emerging Wednesday cast doubts on the erasure of maritime crime originating in the Horn of Africa country.
A group of armed men forced their way onto the deck of the 20-crew Aegan 2, en route to Mogadishu from the UAE, after it encountered engine problems, according to a regional Somali governor.
A official who asked not be named said the men had ties to a local militia that also functioned as a police unit in the northeastern Bari region.
Involvement in piracy and service in the Somali police force is not unheard of, according to Jay Bahadur, the former head of a team of UN experts enforcing an arms embargo on Somalia.
He said that those who hijacked the Aegean had been wearing police uniforms and seized weapons from a security team on board.
Bahadur added the ringleader of Wednesday's attack had been in contact with another pirate who was a member of the group which orchestrated Somalia's last hijacking in 2017.
"If it was indeed the police, it bears resemblance to one of the earliest Somali piracy incidents, when members of the Puntland coast guard hijacked the boat they were supposed to be guarding," he said.
Read also: Troubled waters: Ports and power in the Horn of Africa
Maritime tracking data shows the vessel turning south past the Horn of Africa towards the port of Hafun, before making a sharp turn and heading back north, docking at Bereeda. The vessel carries either crude or chemical products, it has been reported.
The European Naval Union Force, known as EU Navfor, is aware of the incident, a source in their Somalia Joint Operation Centre said.
Ever since the height of pirate attacks in 2011, shipping firms have enforced better anti-piracy measures, including posting look-outs and hiring private security. Attacks have also been prevented by warships operating as part of an international coalition.
Somalia is mired in decades-long conflict. A patchwork of local militias, federal forces, peacekeeping troops and Islamist insurgent wield power, as the Horn of Africa country remains foremost its own victim of piracy.
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