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[News] An Iranian dhow captured by pirates in Puntland intercepted and tracked by Europeans (v4)

(B2) Sailors from the European operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta spotted a fishing vessel captured by pirates last week off the coast of Puntland.

AlMeraj1 Fishing Dhow (photo: Eunavfor Atalanta)

Captured last week

Flying the Iranian flag, the Al-Meraj 1, this fishing dhow (or dhow) was captured by pirates off the coast of Eyl (Puntland), last Wednesday (November 22), according to information from the MSCHOA / MICA Center in Brest (which ensures information monitoring in the Indian Ocean zone for the European operation). On board two skiffs, the pirates had – following a well-established method at the end of the 2010s – placed ladders to approach the dhow with its blue and white hull, threatening the crew with AK47 type weapons (Kalashnikov) and RPG (grenade launcher). Then bringing their prey back to shore.

Tracked by air and located far off the coast

LThe European Union naval operation has, for several days, deployed “ dedicated resources » to locate the ship, in particular the maritime patrol aircraft of the operation based in Djibouti (a Casa Vigma) and an on-board drone of the type Scan Eagle. His two ships, the Italian frigate Durand de la Penne and the Spanish frigate Victoria took turns to “ closely follow the movements of the dhow and report its position ". And the dhow intercepted off the coast of Puntland (Somalia) “more than 230 nautical miles” from the Somali coast.

Tracking for several days

Since the moment of interception, the dhow has been tracked. Merchant ships being informed of the presence of a suspicious boat in the area. Finally, having lost its two towed skiffs and the weather conditions being unfavorable, the Al Meraj 1 turned around and headed back towards the coast of Puntland, still closely monitored by ATALANTA units, Vessel " is currently sailing towards the Somali coast under the surveillance of EUNAVFOR assets », Indicates the operation HQ located in Rota (Spain) at B2 on Friday (December 1).

A possible use as a mother ship

Indeed, there is no question for European navies to leave such a ship. It could very well have served as a mother ship for “facilitate further pirate attacks on merchant ships ". But the Europeans did not intervene. According to our information, the situation on board is quite “ confused » (1). It is difficult to specify to what extent the crew collaborates, or not, with the pirates. Hence the cautious terminology used by EUNAVFOR: the dhow “ allegedly kidnapped by pirates ».

Escorted by a Spanish frigate

As soon as the fishing dhow is in Somali territorial waters, it will be up to the Somalis to take over. The European operation no longer has authorization to enter these waters, the resolution of the United Nations Security Council having not been renewed. The exact position of the Al Meraj 1 was thus communicated to the Somali police forces, the operation said on Sunday (December 3). Somali forces accustomed to interacting with their European counterparts, having often been trained or invited to train aboard Atalanta ships.

A ransom demanded

The kidnappers demanded,according to the Somali media Garowe Online, from owner of the ship the payment of a ransom of $400.000. Those responsible for Operation Atalanta have launched a call for vigilance. Recommending all vessels in the area of ​​“ register in the MSCHOA Voluntary Registration System (VRS) », the maritime security center for the Horn of Africa, located in Brest.

Alerts on the Gulf of Aden

Several alerts have been issued in recent days by maritime authorities (MSCHOA and UKMTO). On Wednesday (November 29), several captains spotted a suspicious small boat in the vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. On Monday (November 27), a dinghy with three people on board approached a ship traveling 60 nautical miles south of Aden in Yemen. The boat followed the ship for an hour before changing direction.

Second capture

A second Iranian dhow was reportedly captured off the coast of Puntland on Wednesday (November 29), Al Ashkaan, according to EU maritime authorities contacted by B2.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. The story does not say whether the fishing vessel had proper authorization to fish in the area. The operation also remains cautious about the circumstances surrounding the capture by the pirates.

A resurgence?

Somali piracy is no longer as effective as in the late 2010s. But it arises from time to time. The last major attack, recorded by B2, took place in August 2021 against a Turkish-flagged cargo ship, north of the Somali capital (read: attempted pirate attack off the coast of Mogadishu).

In April 2019, a Spanish military ship from Atalanta intercepted a Yemeni fishing vessel used by pirates (read: The pirates are on the attack again. A mother ship stopped short in the Indian Ocean) ; the arrested kidnappers had been transferred to Seychelles for trial (read: The five pirates arrested by the Spaniards transferred to the Seychelles).

In February 2018, it was a tanker flying the flag of Singapore but belonging to a Latvian shipowner which was attacked off the coast of Somalia (read: Latvian chemical tanker attacked by pirates off Somalia). In April 2017, it was a Indian dhow that had been captured by pirates.


Read also:

Corrected and completed on 1.12 at 19:35 p.m. - the fishing dhow was not released, but just intercepted and tracked remotely. Details also on the means used and the situation on board. Updated 3.12 on the handover to the Somali authorities (details on the weather conditions and circumstances of the vessel's tracking) + the capture of a second vessel.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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