Somali pirates free cargo ship MV Abdullah after $5m ransom paid

The pirates had demanded payment for the release of the crew

A photo released by the Indian Navy shows pirates aboard the MV Abdullah after it was seized on March 12. Photo: Indian Navy
Powered by automated translation

Somali pirates with links to Al Qaeda have released the Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship MV Abdullah and its 23 crew members after receiving a ransom payment of $5 million, locals and officials in Somalia said on Sunday.

The payment followed weeks of secret negotiations with the ship’s owners, Kabir Steel Re-Rolling Mills, and is the first to be made to pirates operating off Somalia since they became active again recently following a years-long lull in attacks.

“The pirate’s gang today released the MV Abdullah and its crew after receiving a $5 million ransom paid by the ship owner," said Hirsi Ali Jama, an influential resident of the port town of Garaad in Somalia's Puntland region, who is privy to the hijacking operation.

"The pirates, who were more than 45, shared the loot and moved to two different locations on land, in Kulub in Mudug region of Galmudug State and in Jiifle village in Nugal region of Puntland State,” Mr Ali Jama told The National by telephone.

There have been more than 20 attempted hijackings since November as many Somalis, mostly in the piracy hotspots of Puntland and Galmudug state, abandoned fishing to cash in on the chaos created after Yemen's Houthi militia began attacking ships in the Red Sea and nearby waters. The attempted seizures have driven up the cost of armed security guards and insurance coverage for ships.

On March 20, Indian Navy commandos managed to release the Malta-flagged commercial ship MV Ruen, which had been hijacked 450 nautical miles east of Socotra in the northern Arabian Sea by Somali pirates on December 14. It was the first hijacking of a merchant ship by Somali pirates since 2017.

Mr Ali Jama said Puntland security forces were pursuing the MV Abdullah's hijackers, who are heavily armed. He could not say how the ransom money had been delivered to the pirates but said payments in the past were either dropped by a helicopter or placed in wooden containers and taken by boat to one of the pirate hangouts and left for them to pick up.

“The pirates were holding the MV Abdullah in between Garaad and Eyl in Puntland state. Puntland security forces have been deployed in the area and are looking for them," he said.

"The pirates divided themselves into two groups and are heavily armed and prepared to defend their loot. We don’t know where the MV Abdullah has gone but it's free now.”

A senior Puntland security official who did not wish to be named confirmed that a ransom had been paid and the ship released.

“Our forces are spread along the coastline in and around Garaad and Eyl and we are determined to bring these criminals to justice. We will not stop searching until we apprehend them dead or alive,” the official told The National.

Late last year, sources confirmed to The National that Somali pirates has struck a deal with Al Shabab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, to share ransom payments in return for security against state forces. It is not clear if that deal still stands.

At the peak of their attacks in 2011, Somali pirates cost the global economy an estimated $7 billion, including hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

The MV Abdullah was carrying some 55,000 tonnes of coal when it was captured on March 12. The ship had sailed from Maputo in Mozambique and was on its way to Hamriyah port in the United Arab Emirates when the pirates pounced on it about 600 nautical miles east of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

According to local reports, the pirates treated the ship's crew well and even allowed them to pray on deck during the Eid Al Fitr celebrations to mark end of Ramadan.

Updated: April 14, 2024, 8:18 PM