EU Navfor) has confirmed the release of the bulk fuel tanker Aris 13 and her eight Sri Lankan crew, without payment of a ransom, just hours after the pirates and the local maritime force exchanged gunfire. The ship’s master confirmed that his crew had suffered no injuries during their 4-day ordeal. The Comoros-flagged vessel had been the first commercial ship hijacked in the waters off the coast of Somalia since the height of Somali piracy in 2012.
Naval forces from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland exchanged gunfire with the hijackers yesterday after attempting to intercept a boat carrying supplies to the pirates. The pirates started shooting at the Puntland Maritime Police Force allowing the supply boat to escape. Afterwards, the naval force held discussions with local elders and the pirates.
Whilst this was a swift and happy conclusion for the men from the Aris 13, a crew of 8 Iranians from the fishing vessel Siraj still remain in captivity, held by Somali pirates having been taken from their vessel almost 2 years ago.
These hijackings off the coast of Somalia have reduced significantly in recent years, mainly due to the counter-piracy efforts of international maritime forces patrolling the area along with private security guards and increased self-protection measures on board ships including the much vaunted Best Management Practices (BMP).
Local fishing communities are said to have received more support in recent years adding to the decline in pirate related incidents at sea, though according to some local reports, in this latest case the pirates had told authorities that they seized the ship to protest illegal fishing in the area. Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) says it is keen to highlight the fact that this single incident does not mean a large-scale return of Somali piracy.
Photo: An aerial view of the action aboard the Aris 13 from an EU Navfor observation helicopter.