One Crewmember Medically Evacuated from Hijacked Bulker off Somalia

hijacked bulker
Bulker Ruen remains anchored off Somalia being monitored by security forces (Navibulgar file photo)

Published Dec 19, 2023 1:58 PM by The Maritime Executive


One of the 18 crewmembers aboard the Bulgarian-owned bulk carrier Ruen seized by pirates last week was released for medical reasons officials reported today. However, the situation aboard the vessel remains unclear with the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) reporting the demands of the hijackers remain unknown, and local authorities in Somalia are planning to storm the ship.

EUNAVFOR confirmed that the Spanish frigate ESPS Victoria had been permitted to track the vessel into Somali waters arriving off the breakaway province of Puntland on Sunday. The Victoria moved away temporarily today for logistic reasons but EUNAVFOR says the vessel remains in a position between Eyl and Xaanfun on the Horn of Africa.

The hijackers are reported to have released one individual late on Monday who was requiring medical attention. The crewmember was taken aboard the Indian Navy vessel INS Kochi and given initial medical treatment. The Spanish also offered to assist, but it was determined that the crewmember needed to be transferred to a hospital and the Indian vessel is currently transporting him.

EUNAVFOR and the Spanish Navy provided additional details about the situation reporting that the Indian Navy’s spotter plan had been able to make contact with the crew on Friday via radio while it was overflying the vessel. At the time the crew was still secure in the citadel approximately a day after the vessel had been boarded. Later, however, the boarders were able to break into the citadel and take the crew hostage. It is unclear when the one crewmember was injured.

A Japanese Navy ship was also in the area and responded to the emergency call issued on December 14 after the vessel was boarded. EUNAVFOR reports the Japanese INS Akebono had remained in the area until it was relieved by the Victoria. 

Since reaching Somalia, the bulker has remained near Puntland which is a breakaway area but in an unusual development, local media is reporting that the Puntland government announced that it is planning a military operation to rescue the vessel and to act as a deterrent to other potential pirates. They are also expressing concern about potential links between the Somali pirates and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“We are fully prepared to deploy the Puntland Marine Police Force and take decisive action against the pirates,” a government spokesman told the local media.

The concern is that a breakaway group is attempting to resume the attacks nearly six years after Somali pirates' last successful seizure of a merchant ship. Last month, Somali pirates were reported to have seized a small, commercial fishing boat, but EUNAVFOR said that group was handed over to the Somali authorities. The United States also said after interrogating the boarders of the tanker Central Park that preliminary indications were that the group was also Somali pirates. A U.S. Navy ship chased and captured the group when they attempted to flee from the tanker.

EUNAVFOR reports that the bulker, which is registered in Malta, is being continuously monitored. Efforts are being coordinated among the partners participating in EUNAVFOR and also with the local Somali authorities.