Madagascar’s Navy arrested a dozen pirates and towed a hijacked ship ashore earlier this week after pirates arrived on the island requesting help for the vessel, which had run out of fuel and was drifting off the coast.
The Comoros-flagged vessel MV Zoulfikar was hijacked by Somali pirates on October 20 last year whilst travelling from the Comoros to Tanzania. It had 30 people on board, including 21 passengers and nine crewmembers. It was initially held off Hobyo, a pirate hub in central Somalia, before being used as a mothership from which to attack other vessels. However, recent storms, including a tropical cyclone off the African coast, left it low on fuel and supplies.
On February 21 six people, including the ships captain and two suspected Somali pirates, set out for help on a small boat and landed at the Antsiranana port in northern Madagascar. They also dropped off a sick female passenger, who was then taken to hospital.
Madagascan authorities launched a search for the vessel on February 24, and sent up several spotter planes. After two days the ship was discovered 70 nautical miles east of Cape Amber, which is the northernmost tip of the island.
“It was a rescue operation. There were no clashes. The suspected pirates were not armed and they gave themselves up immediately,” Rolland Rasolofonirina, the coordinator of Madagascar’s anti-piracy efforts told AFP. He added that they had run out of fuel and only had 30 litres of fresh water left.
“There were 37 people on board, 12 of whom are suspected pirates. The 25 passengers are from Madagascar, Tanzania and the Comoros and three of them are women,” Rasolofonirina said. The women were given medical treatment as soon as they were transferred to the Madagascan rescue boat.
On Sunday February 27, the 40 metre long MV Zoulfikar was towed into Antsiranana port, where all those aboard were being detained by the authorities.
“We are in the process of deciding on the procedure to be followed…so that prosecutions can take place,” Rasolofonirina told AFP. “We are really surprised. It is the first time we are seeing suspected pirates giving themselves up to authorities.”
Madagascar now faces its first piracy case in more than a hundred years. “This is the first time we are having to deal with this kind of case,” said Madagascar’s Justice Ministry Secretary General Ernest Ratsimisetra. He added that the problem falls into “a kind of legal vacuum,” reports the Christian Science Monitor.
Madagascar Justice Minister Christine Razanamahasoa has said the country is “ready and able” to deal with piracy. However, it is not certain how Madagascar will treat the pirates, who face charges of piracy; illegally detaining crewmembers; and not holding identification papers.
The incident marks the ever-expanding reach of Somali pirates, who are ranging as far East as India and as far South as the Mozambican Channel. “They are coming farther and farther south with more attempts on boats. About five months ago they tried a fishing boat in Madagascar’s waters,” Madagascar’s Transport Minister Rolland Ranjatoelina told the Christian Science Monitor.
A Norwegian ship was hijacked off Madagascar in March last year while in December a Taiwanese fishing vessel was attacked 120 nautical miles off the island’s coast.