Bulk carrier Abdullah highjacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean as piracy ramps up

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Pirates have seized a Bangladeshi-flagged and owned ship, the bulk carrier Abdullah, en route from the port of Maputo in Mozambique. The vessel was boarded by a reported 20 pirates, who have taken the crew of 23 seafarers hostage.

The 58 068-dwt bulker was en route to the United Arab Emirates port of Al Hamriyah with a cargo of 58 000 tons of coal when it was hijacked on 12 March. Abdullah is nominally owned by SR Shipping, a sister company to a Bangladeshi steel manufacturing outfit based in Chattogram, Bangladesh, and is managed by Brave Royal Ship Management also of Chattogram.

A spokesman for SR Shipping told a Bangladeshi newspaper that they were in communication with the ship’s crew through WhatsApp. This has continued to be possible using a hidden cell phone and the shipboard Wi-Fi.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has been notified as well as the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region, which is hosted by the Indian Navy. Likewise the Bangladeshi Navy has been made aware.

Abdullah was boarded while sailing opposite the Somali coast but at some considerable distance out at sea, and north of the Seychelles.

Though not initially confirmed, it is believed the pirates are from Somalia and will be taking the ship towards that country.

The European Union (EU) naval task force (EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta) in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday confirmed the piracy event and stated that “ship is sailing toward the Somali coast”.

“Operation Atalanta was the first actor to respond. Currently one Atalanta ship is shadowing the pirate vessel,” EU NavFor said, adding the EU operation is in contact with Bangladesh and Somali authorities. Others involved are the Indian Navy and regional forces to “co-ordinate the most efficient action”.

The Abdullah is the second ship associated with Brave Royal Ship Management. In December 2010 the Jahan Moni was highjacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. All 25 crew plus the wife of the chief officer were held hostage before being rescued almost 100 days later.

Earlier this year in its 2023 review the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) noted the first “successful Somali-based hijacking” in six years.

A bulk carrier, the MV Ruen, was boarded and hijacked by alleged Somali pirates on 14 December 2023. The incident happened 700 nautical miles east of Bosaso in Somalia. Reports suggest two dhows were subsequently hijacked, “a type of vessel with potential use as mother ships for further attacks” according to the IMB.

Ocean waters off the north-eastern African coast, particularly the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, are currently high-risk areas due to terror attacks by Houthi rebels, with piracy an ever present threat.

Multiple incidences of piracy off the Horn of Africa have been recorded this year. In January, the Indian Navy foiled two hijackings by Somali pirates within days. On 29 January, the fishing vessel Al Naeemi and her crew (19 Pakistani nationals) were rescued by the Indians from 11 Somali pirates after the Iranian-flagged fishing vessel was boarded and her crew taken hostage.

The day before, the INS Sumitra was again in action off the Somali coast when she responded to a distress message regarding the hijacking of the Iranian flagged fishing vessel Iman, which had been boarded by pirates and the crew taken as hostages.

The Indian Navy said INS Sumitra intercepted the vessel and coerced the pirates to safely release the 17 crew along with the boat. “The fishing vessel was subsequently sanitised and released for onward transit.”

On 5 January, the Indian Navy rescued another vessel from pirates – 21 crew were evacuated from the MV Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea a day after it was boarded by half a dozen armed men off Somalia’s coast.

Also in January, the Seychelles’ government said its defence forces and coast guard had rescued six Sri Lankan fishermen whose vessel had been hijacked by Somali pirates. The fishing trawler Lorenzo Putha-4 was seized along with its six-man crew on 27 January, about 840 nautical miles southeast of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

The hijackings off Somalia have raised concerns about a resurgence of Indian Ocean piracy by opportunistic pirates taking advantage of naval forces focussing on defeating attacks on shipping by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden continue at an almost daily basis, with one vessel (the MV Rubymar) sunk, and two seafarers killed in another attack. Several vessels have this year been hit by Houthi missiles.

Written by Africa Ports & Ships and defenceWeb.