A foreign cargo vessel has been hijacked by Somali pirates in Maldivian waters, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has confirmed.
The Bolivian-flagged vessel was hijacked about 190 nautical miles northwest of Hoarafushi island in Haa Alif Atoll, said MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem.
The MNDF have dispatched defence vessels to the scene of the hijacking. The vessel was identified on Somalia Report as the Iranian-owned MV EGLANTINE, with 23 crew members on board. The vessel, which has previously been named the Bluebell and the Iran Gilan, is owned by Darya Hafiz Shipping.
“Since it is a hijacking it is possible that the pirates will be armed. I cannot give further details on the mission. There are factors to be considered before going to a direct confrontation or rescue,” said Major Raheem. Foreign authorities have been asked for assistance, he confirmed.
The attack occurred this morning and was reported to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) station on Villigili at 2:30pm.
Though acts of piracy have been reported near the Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Monday’s attack is the first to happen in Maldivian waters.
The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.
The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands. The castaways were given medical treatment and incarcerated while the government negotiated their repatriation.
Last week, the 40 Somali castaways in custody of the Maldives’ authorities refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.
The government had identified and obtained passports for the detainees and arranged a charter flight for their return to Somalia said a senior government official who worked on the case, but was unable to deport them against their will.
Refugees cannot be repatriated without consent under international conventions to which the Maldives is signatory, leaving the Maldives no legal recourse but to sign international conventions on the rights of refugees and migrant workers and their families and accept the Somali nationals as refugees.
In a special report on piracy in December 2010, Minivan News cited a European piracy expert who noted that increased policing of waters at a high risk of piracy was forcing pirates deeper and deeper into the Indian Ocean.
“We believe that this trend is due to the fact that the pirates are following the vessels – as merchant ships increase their distance from Somalia in order to feel ‘safer’, the pirates follow them resulting in attacks much farther east than ever before,” she said.
Concerns about rising piracy have also been expressed by yachting interests in the Maldives.
An American luxury passenger line en route to the Seychelles in January was stranded in the Maldivian waters due to “piracy risk”, while the passengers departed to the Seychelles through airline flights.
Secretary General of Maldives Association of Yacht Agents (MAYA), Mohamed Ali, told Minivan News at the time that the passenger line had arrived on December 29 and was scheduled to leave the same day after a brief stop near Male’.
However, he said the cruise captain had decided not to leave with the passengers on board due to “security reasons”, as there have been several attacks by pirates near the Seychelles.