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Thai Fishermen Seized by Somali Pirates in Long-Distance Hijacking

Somali pirates hijacking vessels at sea have become an almost daily occurrence. But the latest incident is raising the alarm far from the East African coast.

It is a scenario that has become all but routine – an act of piracy on the high seas by Somalis. This time the pirates have hijacked three fishing vessels from Thailand (and operating from Djibouti) with a total crew of 77 Thais aboard the ships. But what is unusual is that it has taken place more than 1,900 kilometers east of the African coast.

Commander John Harbour is at the European Union's Naval Force Maritime Security Center in London.

"Since the European Union Naval Force arrived in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin in the Indian Ocean back in December 2008, this is the farthest hijacking that we're aware of. In fact, it's closer to the Indian coast than it is to the Somali coast," Harbour said.

Patrols by European and American warships have compelled the pirates to venture farther from their home waters.

Authorities say the crews of the Thai fishing boats appear safe and that the hijacked vessels are heading towards the Somali coast.

Commander Harbour tells VOA News this latest incident – so far away from Somalia – should serve as a wake-up call for the international community.

"What EU NAVFOR would like to see, and probably other commanders in the area, would be for all regional players now to take this threat seriously and all regional players in the area to join us in fighting this scourge, this criminal activity," Harbour adds.

Somali pirates are blamed for seizing more than 20 vessels since the beginning of last month and are holding more than 200 crew members hostage.

Piracy is a lucrative, albeit dangerous, business. Shipping companies are known to pay hundreds of thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars in ransom for the release of their crews and vessels.

The Seafarers' Assistance Program estimates there are 1,500 active pirates working for seven major syndicates in the waters between India and Africa. The group says the pirates' missions are financed by criminals in a number of countries besides Somalia, including Lebanon, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.