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Hijacked Bulker Winds Up off Somalia's Northern Coast

hijacked bulker
Ruen off Somalia (EUNAVFOR)

Published Dec 17, 2023 3:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Bulgarian bulker that was hijacked in the Arabian Sea last Thursday is now located off Somalia, according to antipiracy task force EUNAVFOR. 

The Indian Navy reported on Saturday that it had located the vessel, and dispatched a search plane and a warship to intercept the ship, the geared bulker Ruen

The EU Operation Atalanta flagship, ESPS Victoria, also transited quickly to meet up with the bulker, EUNAVFOR said Sunday. The Victoria's current mission on scene is to "gain more awareness and evaluate following actions."  

If the hijackers had intended to hide the ship, they did not try hard. As of Sunday, Ruen was still broadcasting her position on AIS. The signal put the ship's location about eight nautical miles off the coast of Abo, a coastal village in the Somali province of Puntland. 

According to the shipowner, the hijacking occurred in the middle of the Arabian Sea, hundreds of miles from any shore. AIS data confirms the location: when she was about 380 nautical miles due east of Socotra, Ruen came to a stop, then changed course and made straight for the Somali coast. 

The long-distance high seas attack is reminiscent of the methods seen in the worst years of Somali piracy. At the peak of the kidnapping epidemic in the early 2010s, pirates with "mother ship" fishing vessels would roam far from Somali waters, some reaching almost to India.  

The operator told Bulgarian media that it lost contact with the ship last Thursday. The last signal from the security officer was that the crew was not in control of the vessel, but the 18-member crew was safe. Six unknown individuals were reported to be aboard the ship.

Alexander Kalchev, director of the company, confirmed that there is a "security incident," underway on the vessel. Speaking on Bulgarian TV, he said “We expect the kidnappers to contact us. The area where the ship was last detected is not a pirate area.”

The Indian Navy released pictures after its plane and warship began tracking the missing bulker (Indian Navy)

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that it has assembled a specialized team to handle the situation. Malta, the ship’s flag state, reports it is also monitoring developments.

The reports are saying it is unclear since there has been no contact if the incident is related to current problems in Yemen or possibly a resurgence of Somali piracy. Reuters however reported it had contact with the rebels in the Puntland region of Somalia who are saying they have managed to seize a vessel. 

It would be the first capture of a large commercial vessel by Somali pirates since 2017. An international security effort was successful in reducing the threat over the past few years.

However, there was a recent report from Somalia that a small commercial fishing vessel had been seized and was being held for ransom. Those reports said the pirates were threatening to use the ship as a mother vessel for more attacks, but EUNAVFOR later said the pirates had been handed over to the Somali authorities and that the threat was over.

The United States has also blamed the recent boarding of the tanker Central Park on Somali pirates. A team from the U.S. Navy captured five individuals who boarded the ship and said that after meeting with them the indications were that they were from Somalia.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization also issued a security warning on Friday alerting ships of potential piracy activity off the Somali coast. They have posted the warning to run through December 17.