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Somali pirates equip MV Abdullah with heavy artillery

Sunday March 24, 2024

Vessel owners still root for peaceful resolution

Bangladesh-flagged ship MV Abdullah that was seized by pirates off the Somalia coast. Photo: X/@indiannavy

Somali pirates, who hijacked MV Abdullah on 12 March, are now armed with heavy artillery and have reportedly fired warning shots to assert their control and stronghold of the ship as European Union (EU) naval forces approached closer.

"Some 30 to 35 armed pirates are stationed on the ship around the clock. They are trying to exert pressure on the 23 captive sailors since the EU warship has been monitoring MV Abdullah from closer proximity," a family member of captive Engine Oiler Mohammed Shamsuddin told The Business Standard today (23 March).

Concerns over the well-being of the crew are mounting, the family member said.

"The crew members are now barred from staying in the cabin. There is a shortage of fresh water. The captives are facing difficulties with water usage, and everyone is required to share one toilet. They are also facing challenges with food," said the family member.

He, however, reassured that all sailors have been unharmed so far.

Images on social media show the heavily armed pirates on the ship, with one photo depicting them aiming weapons at an EU warship – as posted on X Wednesday from the official accounts of The Daily Somalia and the Indian Air Force.

On 16 March, the Indian Navy rescued the Maltese flag-bearing MV Ruen with 17 crew members. Since then, Somali pirates have been extra cautious about the crews on MV Abdullah.

European naval forces, meanwhile, continue surveillance efforts, including their helicopter patrolling the airspace and the warship stationed at closer proximity to the hijacked ship, as seen in the images and videos posted on the force's X posts.

Although the EU Naval Force confirmed their presence, they did not disclose any information regarding their mission.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud today assured swift action to resolve the crisis.

Given the hazardous nature of the cargo onboard the MV Abdullah, precautionary measures are being implemented to prevent any actions that could jeopardise the safety of the vessel and its crew, he said.

"The safety of both the sailors and the ship is our top priority," the minister affirmed. "We must proceed cautiously to avoid any potential damage to the combustible material on board."

In light of past incidents, the minister stressed the urgency of the situation, recalling the lengthy resolution process of a previous hijacking involving MV Jahan Moni. However, he said the government's active engagement in expediting the resolution process.

Shipowner's firm stance on peaceful resolution

In response to these developments, Kabir Group, the owner of MV Abdullah, expressed their stance on the safe return of the sailors.

"We are aware through social media that the EU's warship, helicopter patrols, and presence of heavily armed personnel on MV Abdullah. But we do not support any armed campaign that may jeopardise our sailor's safety," Kabir Group spokesman Mizanul Islam said.

"Our priority is the safe return of the sailors through peaceful means. We and the govt have informed the EU or the Indian Navy that we want the repatriation of our crew members and we have no support for anything that puts the lives of our sailors at risk," he added.

Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers' Association General Secretary Shakhawat Hossain said, "Due to the EU's naval force's presence, there is psychological pressure on the pirates. That's why the pirates have armed themselves heavily and are trying to exert pressure on the hostages.

"However, without Bangladesh's consent, there is no scope for the EU to conduct operations on Bangladeshi ships. Even the Bangladesh government and shipowners have not initiated any military campaign on MV Abdullah till now."

He reiterated that seeking a peaceful resolution remains the only viable option for securing the release of the crew members.

Shakhawat, however, acknowledged that while any military action risks endangering sailors, the ship, and its cargo, it might also present a swift resolution to the crisis.

Eight days after the hijacking, on Wednesday afternoon, the pirates contacted MV Abdullah's shipowner for the first time. However, it could not be known yet what discussions have taken place.

On 12 March, Somali pirates seized control of MV Abdullah carrying coal and manned by 23 crew members, all Bangladeshi, in the Indian Ocean.

According to the latest known location, the pirates anchored the ship off the coast of Somalia's Gadhavjiran last Friday after changing locations twice.


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