IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan stated: “The dangers in this region are very real. Recent reports have detailed attacks involving machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades. We recommend that all vessels travelling in the area do so with caution and unless vessels are calling into Somali ports, that a 200 NM minimum distance be kept from the Somali coastline.”
A number of recent attacks demonstrate the severity of the situation. First, a general purpose 23,618 DWT vessel, MV IBN Younus, was chased for nearly an hour by pirates using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The vessel managed to escape, but not without having the accommodation block destroyed by fire from the grenade attack. MV IBN Younus was making its way from Durban to UAE when attacked at approximately 180 NM in the Indian Ocean.
A second attack reportedly took place at a similar distance from the Somali coast. This incident saw a group of gunmen in speedboats run down and seize two South Korean owned fishing vessels. The pirates then took 30 people hostage. A third fishing vessel managed to outmanoeuvre the militiamen and continue on its voyage from Yemen to Kenya.
These most recent attacks come in the wake of the hijackings on MVs Rozen and Mariam Queen. The UN-chartered Rozen was boarded in February 2007 and held, along with crewmembers, for 34 days after being attacked off the North East coast of Somalia. Mariam Queen was hijacked less than two weeks before these most recent attacks when armed men boarded the general cargo ship and took it to Hobiyo anchorage. The Mariam Queen was released by the hijackers on 27 May 2007.
This spike in piracy activity runs counter to 2005-2006 IMB statistics which demonstrated a decline in acts of piracy in the region. From 35 attacks in 2005, in 2006 the number of reported attacks in Somali waters decreased to 10, this includes five actual hijackings of vessels and five attempted attacks. In 2007 there have already been nine confirmed attacks on vessels off the Somali coast, six of which have included hijackings.
Captain Mukundan stated: “For the safety of all vessels operating in Southern Somalia, it is imperative that the interim government exert firm control over militias operating in this area. If this is not done we are concerned that violent piracy will continue to rise in this region and seafarers will remain at risk as they traverse one of the main sea routes along the east coast of Africa.”