Somali Pirate Attacks

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Recent Pirate Attacks | Pirate Attacks Map | Links and Resources

 Somalia is a chaotic and nearly governmentless nation off the east coast of Africa, and it is home to the world's best known contemporary pirates. These pirates, who operate a financially lucrative ship-hijacking operation, capture merchant ships off the coasts of Yemen, Somalia, and Kenya, and then hold them for ransom. The ship owners and their insurance companies usually pay the ransom, sometimes in the millions of dollars, because it is far cheaper than losing the ship and cargo. For example, the Saudi oil tanker seized on Nov. 17, 2008, had just been built, at a cost of $150 million, and carried an oil cargo valued at $100 million. Paying a ransom of even several million dollars would save the ship and crew.

Naval vessels from around the world (United Stated, United Kingdom, Russia, India, others), patrol the Somali coast to protect merchant vessels. Due to Somalia's proximity to the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal, nearly 16,000 ships travel off the coast every year. On Nov . 18, 2008, the Indian Navy ship INS Tabar battled a pirate "mother ship" and sank it, killing an unknown number of pirates.

The reasons piracy is thriving off the Somali coast include the state of anarchy in Somalia since the early 1990s. Civil war destroyed the government, and in 2006, Ethiopia invaded, (with American aid), to prevent the rise of an Islamist government in Somalia. Also, as a result of the fall of the Somali government, foreign fishing ships began fishing the lucrative tuna catch off the Somali coast, thereby causing economic damage to the Somali fishing industry. Somali fishermen, with ready access to small-arms and portable rockets due to the civil war, took to the seas to make a living attacking foreign fishing and cargo ships off their coast. This spontaneous privateer activity eventually turned into the highly organized and more heavily-armed pirate organizations which have recently seized a Ukrainian cargo ship full of weapons and the Saudi oil tanker.

On April 8, 2009, Somali pirates attacked an American ship, the Maersk Alabama, some 380 miles off the Somali coast. The standoff between the four pirates and the U.S. Navy ended with the deaths of three of the pirates. For further details, see Somali Pirate Attack on the American Ship Maersk Alabama (April 2009).

 See also: History Guy: The Barbary Wars--America's original response to piracy in the early 1800s.

Recent Pirate Attacks off the Somali Coast 

Nationality of Ship Attacked

April 8-12, 2009

United States

Somali pirates seized an American-flagged ship, the Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean on April 8, 2009. click here for details

November 19, 2008


Somali pirates hijack a Thai fishing ship with 16 crew members off the coast of Horn of Africa.

November 18, 2008


Indian Navy's stealth frigate INS Tabar spotted a pirate ship accompanied by speedboats and intercepted it. After the pirates threatened to attack, the frigate opened fire at and sank the main ship. There were no casualties reported on the Indian side and the number of pirates killed in this operation is unclear. After the "mother ship" was destroyed, the pirates tried to flee in the two accompanying speedboats. The Indian Navy chased the boats and found one abandoned while the other escaped into darkness. Though the Indian Navy did not specifically mention, the U.S. Department of State said that the Indian Navy did capture some of the pirates. This was the third time the INS Tabar fought pirates in a week.

Nov. 17, 2008

Saudi Arabia

The Liberian-flagged, Saudi-owned ship MV Sirius Star, which is owned by the Saudi oil company Aramco, was hijacked 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya with 25 crew members aboard. The 1,080 foot-long vessel was carrying 2,000,000 barrels of crude oil valued at $100 million. This is the farthest Somali pirates have traveled to hijack a ship, and is far south of the "Maritime Security Patrol Area" patrolled by international warships in the Gulf of Aden.

Nov. 14, 2008


The Chinese fishing vessel Tianyu No. 8 or Tanyo 8 was seized by Somali pirates while fishing off the coast of Kenya.

Nov. 14, 2008


The British private security service Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions claimed to have repulsed an attack on an unidentified chemical tanker using water hoses and a magneto-acoustic device.

November 12, 2008


The Turkish ship Karagol owned by the Istanbul-based Turkish shipping company YDC Denizcilik A.S, was hijacked off the coast of Yemen with 14 crew members aboard. Notably the second Turkish vessel to be hijacked in a matter of two weeks, the ship is reported to be carrying 4,500 tons of unspecified chemicals, en route to Mumbai, Kenya.

November 11, 2008


The MV Powerful, a Danish-registered cargo ship, was attacked by pirates onboard a dhow. Russia has claimed that the pirates tried twice to seize the vessel, but they were rebuffed by Russian and British helicopters, though Russian involvement has been disputed by the Royal Navy. The dhow was later detected by HMS Cumberland, and its unit of Royal Marines was dispatched in rigid-raider craft to try and stop the dhow. Whilst circling the dhow, the Marines were fired upon by the pirates. The Marines returned fire, killing two pirates, and forcing the remaining crew to surrender. The dhow was then boarded and captured by the Marines. A Yemeni male was found onboard, and he later died from his injuries; the British Ministry of Defense reported that it was unsure whether the injuries were caused during the gunfight, or beforehand.

Nov. 11, 2008


MV Jag Arnav, 38,265-ton bulk carrier owned by Mumbai-based Great Eastern Shipping Company, raised an alarm when pirates tried to board the ship. Indian Navy's INS Tabar, which about 25 nautical miles away at the time of the distress call, rushed a Chetak helicopter carrying a team of MARCOS to the scene and successfully thwarted the hijack attempt. The incident took place 60 nautical miles from Aden. The Indian Navy also foiled an attempt by pirates to a board MV Timaha, a Saudi Arabia registered cargo ship.

November 7, 2008


The Danish-owned, Bahamas-registered ship MV CEC Future carrying unknown cargo was seized with 13 crew members, consisting of 11 Russians, 1 Georgian, and 1 Lithuanian.

October 29, 2008


The Turkish ship MV Yasa Neslihan was hijacked. The vessel with a crew of 20 was carrying iron ore from Canada to China. The ship's owning company, Yasa Holding, was alerted by an onboard alarm system. Turkish authorities are seeking help to rescue the ship, but there has been no contact made with the pirates.

Links and Sources:

French warship team destroys pirate boats--CNN, March 5, 2010

Islamists go after pirates who took Saudi ship: Criticize theft from Muslims--Washington Times, Nov. 22, 2008

Pirates bolster defences around hijacked tanker --Times Online, Nov. 21, 2008

To turn the tide on piracy in Somalia, bring justice to its fisheries--Nov. 20, 2008

Indian navy sinks suspected pirate "mother" ship--Associated Press, Nov. 19, 2008

Somali pirates transform villages into boomtowns--Associated Press, Nov. 19, 2008

U.S. Urges Merchant Ships to Try Steps to Foil Pirates--NY Times, Nov. 19, 2008

Japan May Use Navy to Protect Ships Off Somalia, Nikkei Says--Bloomberg.com, Nov. 19, 2008

Saudi Supertanker Hijacked By Somali Pirates--NPR, Nov. 18, 2008