Indian navy frees Iranian fishing boat hijacked by pirates off coast of Somalia

All 17 crew were released along with the vessel

India's navy says it 'swiftly responded' to a distress call and freed an Iranian fishing vessel hijacked by pirates. Photo: Indian Navy
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India's navy said it freed an Iranian fishing vessel hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia in the latest attack on ships in the region.

India's INS Sumitra "swiftly responded" to a distress call after a fishing boat named Iman was boarded by pirates and the crew taken hostage, the Indian Navy said in a statement.

The INS Sumitra intercepted the vessel and "coerced the pirates" to release the 17 crew members and the boat safely. A representative for the navy did not give further details when contacted about the incident.

“Indian navy ship Sumitra on anti-piracy operations along the east coast of Somalia and Gulf of Aden responded to a distress message regarding the hijacking of Iranian-flagged fishing vessel Iman,” the navy said in a statement.

The boat was subsequently "sanitised" – referring to the process of searching and securing a ship – and released, the navy said.

On the same day, forces from the Seychelles navy freed a Sri Lankan vessel "hijacked by armed Somali pirates" in the Indian Ocean, President Wavel Ramkalawan's office said on Monday. It is not known whether the two attempted hijackings were connected.

The small island nation of the Seychelles has joined the US-led maritime coalition Operation Prosperity Guardian, set up to combat attacks on shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthis.

India is not a member of the initiative, but its navy has responded to an increase in attempted hijacking attacks launched by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The rise in attacks comes after an alleged deal between pirates and Al Shabab, with the extremist group providing protection in exchange for a share of the ransom for captured ships.

The group not yet confirmed the agreement, but the region has experienced a resurgence in piracy attacks in recent months.

On Saturday, suspected Somali pirates boarded and hijacked the Sri Lankan fishing trawler Lorenzo Putha-4 with six crew, south-east of the Somali capital Mogadishu, the Sri Lankan navy said.

Indian navy commandos boarded the Liberia-flagged ship MV Lila Norfolk in early January after it was ambushed by pirates off the coast of Somalia. All 21 of the crew, including 15 Indian citizens, were rescued.

In December, pirates seized the Malta-flagged MV Ruen and its 18 crew.

Global shipping routes have been disrupted by tensions in the Red Sea, where Yemen's Houthi rebels have vowed to continue attacks against commercial ships that they say are retaliation for Israel's war in Gaza.

Major shipping companies have been forced to send cargo ships on a much longer route around southern Africa, driving up the costs of global shipping.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 12:57 PM