Somali Pirates in Shootout With Indian Navy Ship

Washington — Authorities in Somalia’s Puntland region said Saturday that Somali pirates who hijacked the cargo ship MV Ruen engaged in a shootout with an Indian navy warship in international waters.

Puntland Ports Minister Ahmed Yasin Salah said the pirates — who allegedly hijacked the Maltese-flagged bulk cargo vessel on December 14 — exchanged gunfire with the Indian navy Friday.

“We received the information regarding the gunfight Friday afternoon,” Salah said. “Once we followed up with our reliable sources, we were told that the Indian navy engaged in a gunfight with the Somali pirates.”

In an interview with VOA Somali Service, Salah said that the pirates on the Ruen have been sailing back and forth across the Somali coast for months and that the Indians intercepted them Friday as they approached another pirate-held ship, the MV Abdullah.

It was not immediately clear if the Somali pirates were using the hijacked ship Ruen to take over the Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship Abdullah.

The Abdullah was sailing from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, to the United Arab Emirates with a cargo of 55,000 tons of coal when Somali pirates attacked and seized it on the evening of March 12, taking 23 of its crew members hostage.

Quoting an Indian navy spokesperson, Reuters reported Saturday that the Somali pirates opened fire on the Indian navy ship in international waters on Friday.

According to the Reuters report, the navy had called on the pirates to surrender and release the vessel and any civilians they may be holding.

Salah said his administration could not provide details regarding casualties or if the Indian navy warship succeeded in forcing the pirates to surrender.

Until the Ruen was seized, there had been no successful hijacking of a merchant ship by Somali pirates since 2017.

At least 17 incidents of hijacking, attempted hijacking or suspicious approaches have been recorded by the Indian navy since December, Indian officials have said.

India deployed at least a dozen warships east of the Red Sea in January to provide security against pirates and has investigated more than 250 vessels.

Somalia had for years been blighted by piracy, with the peak being 2011, when more than 160 attacks were recorded off the Somali coast, the U.N. says.

The incidents have declined drastically since then, largely because of the presence of American and allied navies in international waters.

A small number of Somalia’s maritime forces have recently been seen conducting patrols in the waters of the Indian Ocean close to Mogadishu, the country’s capital, as part of an ongoing measure by Mogadishu to rebuild its maritime security presence.

In tandem with that effort, Somalia’s executive and legislative branches approved a crucial 10-year defense and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey last month.

Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said under the agreement, Turkey will build, train and equip the Somali navy and help to remove “any fears of terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping and any external violations or threats” to Somalia’s sea coast.

Somalia has Africa’s longest coastline.

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