Piracy off Somalia’s coast has increased since maritime security was disrupted by Houthi militants’ attacks on ships in the Red Sea in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

The Horn of Africa nation has recorded five assaults on commercial ships off its coast since November, Hassan Mohamed Afrah, the director of Somalia’s maritime agency, said by phone on Friday. That’s brought an end to a period of stability that prompted the global shipping industry in 2022 to declassify the coastline on the Indian Ocean as a “high-risk area.”

The recent incidents included hostages being taken in December on board the Malta-flagged vessel, MV Ruen, that led to Indian, Japanese and Spanish warships rescuing its 18 crew members. That was the first successful hijacking of a vessel off the Somali coast since 2017, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

On Jan. 5, the Indian navy again responded to a hijacking incident on board the Liberia-flagged MV Lila Norfolk, by sending a warship and helicopters only to find the pirates had already escaped. Somali soldiers fought with hijackers off the coast of Galmudug state last week after they took over a commercial vessel owned by local businessmen. “We chased pirates who hijacked a boat and after a few minutes of skirmishes, we successfully recovered the boat and handed it over to its owners,” said Ali Warsame, commander of the Galmudug coastal guards. In addition to attacks on large ships, at least five small Iranian fishing vessels have been targeted in recent weeks, according to Crisis 24, an international consultancy firm specializing in security.Afrah blamed the recent surge on European military vessels leaving the area and US forces being preoccupied by the threat coming from Houthis in Yemen.

Container ships that would have sailed through the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal are now adding weeks to their routes to travel around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. “The EU naval forces that would keep pirates at bay have left the area and the US naval forces are also busy with the Red Sea tension, causing the pirates to re-emerge and exploit the situation,” he said

Last year, 28,082 vessels passed along Somalia’s coastline, according to Afrah. The Kenya-based Shippers Council of Eastern Africa has warned that the continuation of the trend in piracy could add to costs for shippers and disrupt supply chains such as exports of Kenyan tea.

Source : Toronto Sun  By :Bloomberg News Simon Marks and Mohamed Sheikh Nor