Somali pirates find Mozambique Channel a balmy home


Somali pirates have hijacked a Mozambican-flagged fishing vessel about 200 nautical miles (370 km) southwest of Comoros in the Mozambique Channel, the European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce says. The capture of the 140-tonne Vega 5 and its 14-strong crew of unknown nationalities – likely on Friday – was the third strike by pirates in waters between Africa and Madagascar in a week.

Somali pirates usually operate further north in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia where a lack of central government and an Islamist insurgency has allowed piracy to flourish off the anarchic Horn of Africa nation’s shores, Reuters reports. While the pirates frequently venture east around the Seychelles and towards the Maldives they are rarely active south of Tanzania.
“Since late December, Somali pirates have been focusing their activities around Tanzania, Comoros and Madagascar to avoid rougher seas further north,” Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, told Reuters.

A NATO counter-piracy website reported last week that the hijacked Taiwanese-owned fishing vessel FV Shiuh Fu No 1, seized on December 25, was operating as a pirate “mothership” in the same area off Madagascar.

The Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique last week reported the country’s Deputy Defence Minister, Agostinho Mondlane, as confirming that the Mozambican Navy had received a distress call on December 24 from a ship that had come under attack from Somali pirates in the Mozambique channel.

He said the pirate attack took place about 200 kilometres east of Quelimane, capital of the central Mozambican province of Zambezia. The city is about halfway up he Mozambican coast and some 300km north of Beira. This is the furthest south any Somali pirate has ventured so far, the agency reports. The Mozambican navy, Mondlane said, retransmitted the call to the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Maritime Security Centres in Madagascar and South Africa.

Wing Commander Paddy O’Kennedy, spokesman for the EU’s Maritime Security Centre says the Liberian registered tanker the “NS Africa” came under fire on December 24 and the “Majestic”, a cargo vessel registered in Panama, was attacked the next day. O’Kennedy said the two attacks were just 20 miles (32 kilometres) apart, and so were probably carried out by the same group. He said two small boats were involved, believed to be carrying six pirates.

O’Kennedy said the “NS Africa” was able to outmanoeuvre the pirates, while the “Majestic” returned fire, and drove the pirates off. Neither of the ships was registered with the anti-piracy authorities who coordinate operations in the Indian Ocean, which is why news of the attacks was held up for several days. The “NS Africa” is known to be heading for the Gulf of Aden, but there is no information on the destination of the “Majestic”.

Mondlane said that Mozambique would be cooperating against the pirate threat with other members of SADC and of the African Union.

Reuters adds pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, despite efforts by foreign navies to clamp down on such attacks.