Somali pirates attacked an Iranian and a Thai fishing vessel off Somalia’s coast, seizing the Iranian-flagged ship with 15 crew members, maritime experts said on Tuesday.
According to anti-piracy expert John Steed from Oceans Beyond Piracy, the attacks occurred more than 200 nautical miles off Somalia’s coastline and the pirates were using small skiffs.
"Two vessels were attacked," said Steed, who tracks ships that have been attacked and helps negotiate the release of hostages.
"The attacks are on fishing vessels, which shows because of the high levels of illegal fishing off Somalia, there are lots of potential fishing boat targets. That's what started the Somali piracy problem in the first place," he added.
The Iranian-flagged vessel was captured with its 15 crew members, after an attack on Sunday evening in waters off Somali city of Eyl, said Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir Director of the Anti-Piracy and Seaport Ministry in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia.
"Pirates hijacked an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel with its 15 crew from near Eyl," Dirir said.
John Steed, East Africa Region Manager for the Oceans Beyond Piracy group, confirmed the reports and said the vessel was called Muhammidi.
"The Iranian vessel appears to have three pirates on board and is heading for Somali coast," Steed said in Nairobi.
The Thai vessel was able to escape, after Somali pirates failed on Monday to capture it in waters off central Somalia, residents said.
In March, two Iranian fishing vessels were also captured by suspected pirates. The 16 crew members from one vessel were able to raise anchor and escape in August, but the other vessel and its 26 crew members remain in captivity.
Steed said that Somali pirates tried to conduct three attacks in the past week but did not succeed, this includes the attack on the Thai vessel on Monday.
"This indicates that the level of illegal fishing is bringing the threat of return of Somali piracy ever closer," added Steed warning that "the level of illegal fishing is prompting these sort of attacks, and the potential for bringing piracy back."
Somalis have been complaining about foreign vessels that threaten fishing communities’ livelihoods along the coast and this is the main reason of piracy.
Despite recent sea attacks, piracy in waters off Somalia had largely declined in the past three years, mostly due to shipping companies hiring private security details and the presence of international warships.
Somali officials said the decrease in piracy in recent years has encouraged foreign-flagged illegal fishing vessels to plunder Somalia’s fish stocks closer to coast, bringing them within the reach of the pirate gangs.
The United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group released a report in October, highlighting that it was "concerned that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign vessels may re-establish the conflict dynamic with local fishing communities that contributed to the rise of piracy a decade ago."
The last outbreak of Somali piracy occurred at the end of the previous decade, costing the world's shipping industry billions of dollars because pirates paralysed shipping lanes, kidnapped hundreds of seafarers and seized vessels more than 1,000 miles from Somalia's coastline.