After 8 days, Somali pirates contact owner of hijacked Bangladeshi ship

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
After 8 days, Somali pirates contact owner of hijacked Bangladeshi ship Pirates on the hijacked MV Ruen are detained by the Indian Navy during a rescue operation to free 17 crew members, March 16, 2024.
SpokespersonNavy via X/handout via Reuters

Eight days after they hijacked a Bangladesh ship and detained its 23 crew members, Somali pirates contacted the owner of the MV Abdullah on Wednesday for the first time but made no ransom demands, company and government officials said.

Commodore Mohammad Maksud Alam, director general of the Bangladesh Department of Shipping, told journalists that the hijackers allowed preliminary contact.

“The pirates had allowed the [ship’s] captain to contact the home country. They did not behave rudely,” he said.

“Besides, a primary contact has been established with a pirate on board the ship,” Alam said, adding officials were told the crew had necessary provisions.  

The pirates seized the Bangladesh-flagged bulk carrier on March 12 in the Indian Ocean off Somalia as it was transporting 58,000 tons of coal from Maputo port in Mozambique to Al Hamriya, a port in the United Arab Emirates. As many as 50 armed men boarded the ship about 500 nautical miles off the Somali coast and forced it to sail to the coast. 

The MV Abdullah belongs to the S.R. Shipping Line, which is owned by Bangladesh’s KSRM Group. 

Mizanul Islam, KSRM’s media adviser, confirmed the conversation.

“The pirates contacted us this afternoon. But they did not demand anything,” he told journalists on Wednesday.

“General talks about the ship and the crew members took place. They informed us that all the crew members were safe and sound. They will not be tortured,” Islam said. 

“An atmosphere for discussion has been created. We hope to find a solution,” he said, adding the company expected there would be more contacts.

A relative of a crew member and an analyst welcomed the development.

“We are heartened to hear that the pirates have contacted the ship owners. Hopefully, the crew would be released through talks,” Mohammad Farid, father-in-law of Atiq Ullah Khan, the ship’s chief executive officer, told BenarNews.

He said the pirates had not allowed the crew to have outside contacts in the days since the hijacking.

On the night he was taken hostage, Atiq Ullah Khan sent an audio message to his wife from his mobile phone. The message was relayed to reporters.

“Convey this message to everyone. Our cell phones are being taken away from all of us. The final word is, if they [the pirates] are not given money, they will kill us one by one,” he said at the time.

20 BD-pirates-inside.jpg
Luthfa Ara Begum, whose son Ainul Hoque Abhi is a crew member on the MV Abdullah, looks at his photos in her home in the Askar Dighi area of Chittagong city, Bangladesh, March 20, 2024. [Minhaz Uddin/BenarNews]

On Wednesday, Syed Ariful Islam, a retired commodore and former director general of the Department of Shipping, termed the hijackers’ move as positive but warned that the release of the crews could be delayed.

“Contact with the pirates is a positive, encouraging development. This means that the pirates want to press for their demands. They simply demand ransom money – nothing else,” he told BenarNews. “Their target is not to kill the hostages.

“Somalia is a failed state. There is no central control of a single government there; state power is scattered among different political groups,” he said. “A third party is necessary to settle the matter involving different parties – pirates, the ship owner, the Bangladesh embassy in Kenya and the third party,” he said.

Because of concerns over crew safety, none of those involved in the contact would say that any negotiations would focus on a payment, he said.

“The pirates will first ask for a big amount, but usually the amount comes down through negotiations. This is very hard to predict any time frame for the negotiations to complete,” he said.  “We must assume that the negotiations will continue for months as happened in previous cases. 

“Bangladesh should in no way allow the international forces to carry out an operation against the pirates.” 

Rescue efforts

Meanwhile, Somali police assisted by international navies were preparing to launch an attack against the pirates holding the MV Abdullah, the Reuters news service reported on Monday.

Two days earlier, the Indian Navy rescued 17 crew members on another cargo ship that was seized in December 2023, the Malta-flagged MV Ruen, and arrested 35 pirates, Reuters reported. On Wednesday, an Indian Navy official said the government planned to prosecute the pirates.

The MV Ruen was spotted off the Somali coast on March 14, British maritime security firm Ambrey told Reuters. Indian navy officials said that the pirates had converted Ruen into a mother-ship, using boats to launch attacks on other vessels.

In December 2010, Somali pirates seized the MV Jahan Moni, another ship owned by SR Shipping, and released the crew after more than three months. The Business Standard reported that the crew members were released after a multi-million-dollar ransom was paid. 

Waters off the Horn of Africa are notorious for piracy targeting international shipping. Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militant group in Somalia, is known for carrying out such attacks.


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