Saturday 18 March 2017

Pirates release oil tanker seized off Somali coast.

An oil tanker and its eight crew members (all understood to be Sri Lankan nationals) that was seized by pirates in the Socotra Gap (between the Somali coast and the Yemeni island of Socotra) on Monday 13 March 2017 have been released without any ransom being paid, according to officials in Sri Lanka and Somalia. The United Arab Emirates-owned, Comoros-registered Aris 13 was hijacked while shipping a cargo of oil from Djibouti to the Somali capital Mogadishu, the first oil tanker attacked in the region since 2012. The hijackers contacted the European Union Naval Force (which co-ordinate anti-piracy efforts in the area) on Wednesday 15 March, demanding an undisclosed ransom for the release of the vessel and its crew, but decided to release the ship without ransom after an exchange of gunfire with the Puntland Maritime Police Force on Thursday, in which four people were injured, followed by negotiations with local elders. The pirates have stated that they were releasing the ship as it had been hired by Somali (rather than foreign) business interests.

The Aris 13, seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia on 13 March 2017. AP.

Piracy around the Horn of Africa was a major problem during the Somali Civil War, with over a thousand hostages taken between 2007 and 2012 (eight Iranian seamen are still thought to be being held somewhere in Somalia), with lucrative oil vessels being the most popular targets. However the decline of fighting in Somalia combined with the deployment of the European task force to the area appeared to have brought the problem under control.

However a growing food crisis in Somalia, caused by a drought associated with this years La Niña weather system, combined with a longer-standing dispute over foreign fishing vessels operating of the north coast of Somalia, many of which are licensed by the government of the semi-autonomous Puntland region (which views the licenses as a valuable source of hard currency), has led to a number of attacks on fishing boats (seen by local fishermen as stealing their Fish) in recent months, and it is feared that the 13 March attack may represent an escalation of this dispute.

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