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Somali pirate attacks add to Red Sea confusion

The Indian Navy rescued two hijacked fishing ships while armed guards have deterred boardings off Somalia

Several incidents of reported Somali piracy have added to security concerns in the Horn of Africa, while the Houthis continue to menace Red Sea shipping

A SPATE of Somali piracy incidents is reviving security concerns around the Horn of Africa, but it’s still unclear what’s behind it.

The Indian warship INS Sumitra rescued two hijacked fishing ships, Iran-flagged Iman and Al Naeemi, off Somalia’s coast within 36 hours of each other. It rescued 17 crew from Iman and 19 from the latter, the Indian navy said on X, formerly Twitter.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations warned yesterday that pirate action groups are likely to be operating in the Indian Ocean.

On Sunday, January 28 UKMTO reported a boat with five people “aggressively” approached a ship 70 nautical miles northwest of Bosasso, Somalia.

Four of the people had AK-47s and none were in uniform. They came within 400 metres of the ship, but broke away after armed guards fired two warning shots.

The day before, it reported a ship approached by a small craft with men carrying automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade 780 nm east of Hafun, Somalia.

On December 22 a dhow was hijacked by heavily armed personnel in an unidentified area around Eyl, Somalia.

The Maritime Security Centre — Horn of Africa (MSCHOA), a monitoring service, has counted six confirmed cases of piracy and three attempted piracy attacks.



Security sources said there was no evidence that Yemen’s Houthis, nor their Iranian sponsors were behind the attacks, despite industry suspicions.

Seagull Maritime chief operating officer Dimitris Maniatis said the attacks could be opportunistic, with navies focused on the Houthi threat in the Red Sea, which continues to menace ships.

The Houthi crisis was “a very good opportunity for anybody that wants to run amok”, Maniatis said, adding gathering evidence was hard.

Automatic Identification System location transponder gaps in the area of the piracy attacks are at their highest in at least a year, vessel tracking shows. Lloyd’s List Intelligence data show 72 gaps so far in January compared with 52 in December and 51 in January 2023.

The number is likely even higher given that the full January data is not yet available. The increase in dark activity is being driven by shorter gaps of 1-3 days. 


More ships are using armed guards in response to the Houthi threat and guards had been effective in deterring pirate boardings, he said. While some 40% fewer ships are transiting the Red Sea, the volume using guards has doubled, Maniatis added.

Risk Intelligence senior analyst Dirk Siebels said there was no clear link to the attacks or their motivation. For shipping companies “it’s mostly wait and see, because no one knows anything concrete”, he said.



Lloyd’s Market Association head of marine and aviation Neil Roberts said whatever these incidents were, they are not in the same vein as the piracy emergency of 2008-2012 as there are no havens in Somalia to keep a vessel and crew in long captivity.

The Indian Ocean High Risk Area was discontinued last year, its job seemingly done; until November there had been no Somali attacks reported since 2017.

Roberts said it was for the shipping industry to assess the status of the HRA.

The insurance industry had gradually relaxed its notification area over time, but it is still relatively extensive, he said.

“No trend is apparent in that the three major reported cases were perpetrated by different entities for different purposes” whether Somali, Houthi, or Iranian, Roberts said.

He said the LMA’s Joint War Committee “is maintaining a watching brief and has left its Indian Ocean listed area unchanged, pending developments”.

The clearest Houthi link was to the hijack of the Zodiac Maritime-managed chemical tanker Central Park on November 26. Missiles had been fired toward the vessel from Yemen before the ship was boarded.

US forces captured five hijackers and later said they were Somali, but it is unclear what happened to them since. The US Navy and Office of Naval Intelligence were contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.

The US warship Gravely shot down a Houthi missile fired toward the Red Sea at about 2330 hrs local time on Tuesday with no injuries or damage, according to the US Central Command.


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