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U.S. Navy Involvement Increases as Somali Hijackings Rise

According to an ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) article, posted on the organization's Web site on October 31, there has been a recent spike in hijackings near Somalia. IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan says that though the number of attacks was decreasing until this year, "2007 has shown a complete reversal of this trend, with the number of acts of piracy already well surpassing those that occurred during the same period in 2006." In the past few weeks alone, there have been at least three successful hijackings and a number of other attempts. According to the IMB, "These recent attacks, all involving armed pirates boarding vessels in international waters, underline the severity of the situation." However, as the number of Somali hijackings increases, international intervention, namely by the U.S. Navy, has also been increasing.

On October 28, the Golden Nori, a Panamanian-flagged, Japanese chemical tanker, was attacked while sailing through the Gulf of Aden, eight nautical miles off the Somali coast. The crew sent out a distress call which the U.S. responded to, sinking the pirates' two skiffs tied to the boat (see Navy photo here). Since then, however, the vessel has remained under pirate control but the U.S. Navy has been continuously tracking it. Apparently, ransom talks for the 23-member crew have just begun, though the captain of the Golden Nori was reportedly able to contact his family and inform them that he and the crew were safe.

Just a day later, on October 29, eight armed pirates attacked the Dai Hong Dan, a North Korean-flagged cargo ship, soon after it had unloaded its cargo in Mogadishu. However, according to the IMB, "The crew of the Dai Hong Dan resisted the pirates. A US Navy vessel in attendance intervened. Five pirates were captured with two killed during the incident. Six crew members were injured, with one now in serious condition. The naval vessel provided emergency medical assistance to all those who were injured." Photos of the vessel can been seen on the U.S. Navy's Web site here.

Then, on Monday, November 5, Somali pirates released the Taiwanese-flagged Ching Fong Hwa after U.S. Navy intervention. The crew of the fishing vessel had been held captive for nearly 6 months after the ship was hijacked in mid-May off the Somali coast. When MarEx went online, it was unknown whether or not the shipowner had paid the ransom the pirates had demanded, but the U.S. Navy did confirm the crew and vessel's release. Images of the U.S. Navy assisting the Ching Fong Hwa can be seen here.

Piracy has been increasing in Somalia since the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overturned in 1991 by warlords. Though attacks decreased during the second half of 2006 when Islamists controlled most of southern Somalia, they have been increasing since the Islamists were expelled in January of this year. This year alone, there have been at least thirteen reported hijackings near Somalia -- almost three times the five hijackings reported in the same area for all of 2006.

However, Captain Mukundan sees the positive outcome of the Dai Hong Dan as a sign of hope for the area. In the IMB article, he thanked the U.S. Navy for its help, stating, "Without their help, the matter might have ended with a greater number of casualties. We hope the involvement of the US Navy will deter other pirates who have so far operated with impunity off this coast."

The waters off the Somali Coast are part of the area that is patrolled by the Combined Task Force 150, a task force under the Combined Maritime Forces Coalition. Twenty countries belong to the Coalition, the main goal of which is to conduct maritime security operations (MSO). To read more about the Combined Task Force 150 and the Coaltion in general, please visit the following link: Combined Task Force 150.

For the latest pirate attack news, please visit the IMB's Web site here.