CHITTAGONG: Pirates have seized a Bangladesh-flagged bulk carrier off the coast of Somalia and taken its 23-member crew hostage, the boat owners said on Tuesday.

The MV Abdullah was sailing from Mozambique’s capital Maputo to the United Arab Emirates with a cargo of 55,000 tonnes of coal when it was attacked around midday on Tuesday, the company said.

“A group of 15-20 Somali pirates hijacked the ship,” said Meherul Karim, chief executive officer of Kabir Steel Re-Rolling Mills, which owns the vessel.

The company released an audio message from one of the crew held hostage, who said that gunmen in two speed boats approached the vessel and opened fire. Karim said the crew were unharmed, adding that “we are waiting for the next message and call.” Mizanul Islam, a company spokesman, said the attack took place around 550 nautical miles (1,000 kilometres) off the coast of Somalia.

Hijackings off Somalia since December have fuelled concerns about a resurgence of Indian Ocean raids by opportunistic pirates, coming on top of a separate surge in attacks launched by Houthi rebels.

Houthi gunmen have launched scores of attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden targeting what they deem to be Israeli-linked vessels. International naval forces have been diverted north from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea, sparking fears that pirates will exploit the security gap.

The first successful case of Somali piracy since 2017 was recorded in December.

Naval forces — including from India, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles — have since freed fishing boats seized by gunmen and thwarted other attempted attacks.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2024

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