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Pirate Fears Rise: First Hijack in 6 Years Off Somali Coast


In December, Somali pirates made headlines by successfully hijacking a foreign vessel, marking the first such incident in six years. This event raised concerns about a potential resurgence of piracy in the region. Analysts emphasize that, while the threat isn't as severe as it was in 2011, the recent upswing in armed seaborne attacks around the Horn of Africa is troubling for marine security.

The UK Marine Trade Operations recorded six incidents off Somalia's coast since mid-December, ranging from armed crews approaching vessels to successful hijackings. Notably, these incidents occurred primarily in Puntland, a historical hub of Somali piracy, situated along the Horn of Africa with extensive coastlines on the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

The MICA Center, a French maritime security agency, highlighted the "possible resurgence" of piracy in a 2023 report, citing nine recorded attacks in that year. Many of these attacks targeted dhows, traditional wooden fishing boats prevalent in the Indian Ocean.

The surge in piracy is linked to external factors, including Huthi rebels in Yemen targeting boats headed for Israel. This parallel rise in both Huthi attacks and piracy suggests a correlation, creating a potential hunting ground as cargo ships slow down hundreds of miles offshore, awaiting instructions.

Recent events, such as state elections in Puntland and disputes over illegal fishing off Somalia's coast, have provided opportunities for criminal networks to regroup. The move towards hijacking fishing trawlers from Southeast Asia, Iran, and Europe, which are accused of illegal activities, points to potential motivations rooted in grievances against widespread illegal fishing.

While some question the viability of pirates successfully operating in the current climate, the relocation of foreign navies from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea in response to Huthi attacks has left cargo ships more vulnerable. Despite these concerns, experts downplay fears of a full-fledged resurgence, citing advancements in naval capabilities, heightened awareness among merchant ships, and the success of deterrence measures since the peak of piracy in 2011.

The recent piracy activity is viewed by many as more of a flare-up than a complete resurgence. Local skepticism in pirate strongholds, such as Eyl, is evident, with some fishermen expressing doubt about pirates taking risks with warships patrolling the seas. The situation underscores the delicate balance between regional security, geopolitical developments, and the enduring challenges faced by coastal communities in Somalia

Feb. 14, 2024 3:40 p.m. 1359

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