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Somali Piracy Resurges

FILE - masked and armed Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel washed ashore after the pirates were paid a ransom and the crew were released.

Observers warn piracy is making a comeback along the coast of Somalia, after gunmen hijacked two ships in 48 hours and took them to an area known as a pirate haven.

On Monday, pirates hijacked a Pakistani boat, Salama 1, soon after seizing an Indian-owned boat, MSV Al Kausar.

The mayor of Hobyo, a town on the central Somali coast, tells VOA Somali the Al Kausar, with 11 crew members, is now anchored off the nearby village of El Hur. The Salama 1 was reportedly headed to the same area with an unknown number of crew.

FILE - In this photo taken March 6, 2017, a Somali government soldier walks on the beach in Eyl, in Somalia's semiautonomous northeastern state of Puntland.
FILE - In this photo taken March 6, 2017, a Somali government soldier walks on the beach in Eyl, in Somalia's semiautonomous northeastern state of Puntland.

Hobyo was a central base for Somali pirates who hijacked dozens of ships for ransom earlier this decade.

Mayor Abdillahi Ahmed Ali says his town has “rested” from piracy but now fears the hijackers have re-emerged to cause more problems.

"Piracy is back," said Ali. “Things can’t be the same; we need to have consultations on how to confront it.”

The Salama 1 hijacking was the fourth piracy attack in three weeks. On March 13 pirates hijacked the Sri Lankan-flagged oil tanker Aris 13. It was taken to the coast of Alula town in Puntland but released three days later, after regional Somali forces threatened force. No ransom was paid although local officials said the pirates were given immunity from prosecution.

Then, on March 24, pirates seized the MV Casayr, a Somali fishing boat, to use as a "mother ship" to attack other ships at sea. Ten Yemeni crew aboard the boat were reportedly dumped on shore.

The former director of intelligence in Somalia's Puntland region, Abdi Hassan Hussein, agrees piracy is re-emerging in the region. He says there are organized groups in advanced preparations to conduct attacks.

“There are more than eight groups who are want to engage piracy activities, some of them already went into the sea, some are in preparation and some have already carried out attacks,” Hussein told VOA Somali.

“It [piracy] may increase in the coming days if the Somali government and the international community fail to take action to prevent these incidents."

Hussein believes Yemenis are involved in piracy, supplying the Somali pirates with logistics such as vessels, weapons, ammunition, GPS, fuel and engines. He said the Yemenis who are helping the Somali pirates are taking advantage of the chaos in their own country.

“The Yemenis are not the pirates but they are facilitating it, they are investors,” Hussein said.

Hijackings had disappeared

At their peak in the early 2010s, Somali pirate gangs were responsible for hundreds of attacks on commercial ships traveling in the Gulf of Aden, the western Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

According to annual reports compiled by the International Maritime Bureau, Somali pirates hijacked 49 ships in 2010 and took more than 1,000 crew members hostage. The pirates and their backers sometimes split windfalls of over $5 million for the release of a ship and its crew.

But Somali piracy virtually disappeared just three years later, after international navies began regular patrols of shipping lanes and ships took new security measures, in some cases carrying armed guards on board.

In all of 2016, the IMB recorded only two pirate attacks near Somalia, neither of which resulted in a hijacking.

So far, the pirates have not made any demands in regards to the two newly-captured ships. Both are believed to be commercial dhows that were carrying goods to Somalia.

Ali said local elders have opened talks with pirates on the Indian boat, and said he wants the Somali government and regional officials to help secure the release of the boat and crew.

“We will exercise whatever means possible to make sure to release those innocents being held by the pirates,” Ali said.