Somali pirates hijack Panama-flagged ship in first seizure since 2017

Experts have warned that the impact of the pandemic could increase piracy or militancy in the conflict-ravaged country

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 file photo, 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 in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

Somali pirates have hijacked a Panama-flagged ship, making their first successful seizure of a vessel since since 2017.

The ship was en route to Mogadishu port in Somalia from the UAE when it appeared to have developed mechanical problems, said Musse Salah, the governor of Gardafu region in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.

It was attacked by six pirates on Wednesday night, he said. The number and nationality of the crew was unclear but discussions were under way to free them, he said.

At the height of their power in 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, the International Maritime Bureau says, and held hundreds of hostages.

Attacks later subsided sharply, mainly because shipping firms implemented better security protocols, including posting lookouts, sailing further away from Somalia and hiring private security.

International warships operating as part of a coalition also helped to drive down the number of attacks.

Earlier this year, Mohammed Guyo, the special envoy for Somalia, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, told a meeting organised by the Royal United Services Institute that he expected a revival of piracy off the eastern African coast as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The resurrection of piracy as a result of job losses by youth cannot be ruled out,” he said. “The crisis is undermining democratic gains, peace-building and development. It has disrupted preventive diplomacy and impeded humanitarian access.”

He warned that the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militant group was using the impact of the virus to try to drive recruitment.