Acts of piracy are on the rise in the Indian Ocean with reports over the past few days of multiple approaches by small boats on vessels operating in the region around Yemen and Somalia. The navies of India and Seychelles intervened to rescue two fishing boats while larger commercial vessels reported being able to defend against approaches from small boats. Investigations are still underway but at least several of the incidents are suspected to involve Somali pirates.
The Seychelles Navy informed officials in Sri Lanka that they rescued six fishermen aboard a deep sea trawler, Lorenzo Putha IV after Sri Lanka reported losing contact with the commercial ship. Sri Lanka’s fishing authority reported the vessel had departed on January 12, but on January 27 reported that all contact had been lost with the vessel.
The Sri Lanka Navy was coordinating with the regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers and notified the Combined Maritime Force based in Bahrain. They requested assistance to rescue the crew saying it was suspected that the vessel was taken by pirates.
The trawler had traveled approximately 1,160 nautical miles and was operating in the Arabian Sea. The Seychelles Defense Force is reporting that they located the trawler approximately 230 nautical miles off Mahe Island within the region of the Seychelles.
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According to accounts provided to the Associated Press, the fishing boat was operating in a group of 30 Sri Lankan fishing boats. On Saturday, January 27, a small boat came alongside and fired shots to chase off the other fishing boats.
The Seychelles Coast Guard ship Topaz was able to intercept the missing trawler and reports that today, January 29, it was able to free the ship and its six crew. In addition, three pirates were taken into custody. The trawler Lorenzo Putha IV is being escorted to Port Victoria in the Seychelles.
Swift response by #IndianNavy‘s Mission Deployed warship ensures safe release of hijacked vessel & crew.#INSSumitra, on #AntiPiracy ops along East coast of #Somalia & #GulfofAden, responded to a distress message regarding hijacking of an Iranian flagged Fishing Vessel (FV)… pic.twitter.com/AQTkcTJvQo
— SpokespersonNavy (@indiannavy) January 29, 2024
The Indian Navy is also reporting that one of its vessels went to the aid of the Iranian fishing vessel Iman after receiving a distress call that the vessel had been boarded by pirates. Reports are that there were 17 crewmembers aboard the commercial fishing vessel who were being held by the pirates.
“INS Sumitra intercepted the vessel, acting in accordance with the established standard operating procedures to coerce the pirates for the safe release of the crew along with the boat,” the Indian Navy reported on its social media channels. The Indian Navy did not provide details about the location of the incident but said that the vessel had been checked and released. The Iranian fishing boat was proceeding for “onward transit.”
The assaults on the fishing boats came as the UK Maritime Trade Organizations was also warning on Saturday that a commercial ship had been approached while it was approximately 780 miles east of Hafun, Somalia in the Indian Ocean. The unidentified vessel reported that a small boat with four people armed with automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade came within 300 meters. Armed security aboard the merchant ship returned fire from the pirates and were able to scare the pirates away. UKMTO says the small boat retreated and the vessel continued to its next port.
Another merchant vessel reported that it was approached on Sunday, January 28, while approximately 70 nautical miles northwest of Bossaso, Somalia. In that incident, there were five people in a small boat with a single engine that got within 400 meters. They said the pirates had AK47 rifles. Armed security on the commercial ship fired two warning shots and the small boat broke off the approach.
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The Indian Navy appeared to have scared off Somali pirates at the beginning of the month when the bulker Lila Norfolk was boarded. An Indian Navy destroyer intercepted the bulker but when its elite team stormed the vessel, they found the pirates had escaped. The crew was rescued unharmed. Similarly, the U.S. Navy reported in November 2023 that it had rescued the tanker Central Park and captured the suspected Somali pirates as they were attempting to escape.
However, the Navibulgar bulker Ruen became the first vessel seized by Somali pirates in years. The vessel is still being held with its crew off the coast of Somalia after it was taken in mid-December.