Bangladesh officials, owners seek contact with pirates who hijacked ship

Reyad Hossain
Bangladesh officials, owners seek contact with pirates who hijacked ship The daughters of Atiq Ullah, the MV Abdullah’s chief officer, look at a family photo at their residence in Chittagong, Bangladesh, while waiting for news of their father and other crew members held hostage by pirates, March 13, 2024.
Minhaz Uddin/BenarNews

More than 24 hours after a Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship with 23 crew members was hijacked off the coast of Somalia, neither the ship’s owner nor government officials have established contact with the suspected pirates, while crew members said their lives were in danger.

Atiq Ullah Khan, chief officer of the MV Abdullah, the commandeered bulk carrier, sent an audio message to his wife from his mobile phone on Tuesday night. 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.

The KSRM Group, the ship’s owner, was able to have contact with some of the crew as late as Wednesday morning, according to company spokesman Mizanul Islam. He said the crew members – all Bangladeshis – were safe and healthy.

“The pirates are now in full control of the ship and are heading toward the coast of Somalia. It may take another day to reach the coast,” he said.

Speaking to reporters in Dhaka, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud said authorities were trying to contact the hijackers.

“The Somali pirates have not yet been contacted to rescue the Bangladeshi ship MV Abdullah and 23 sailors in the Indian Ocean. We are trying through third parties and wherever it is necessary to inform, we have informed,” Mahmud said.

“We have already reported to the Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, the Indian Fusion Center in New Delhi, Singapore, the United States, United Kingdom, China and all the naval ships in the area. We are also trying to communicate through other sources,” he said. “Intelligence agencies are working on this.” 

Crew member Mosharraf Hossain Shakil was able to speak to his brother, Abu Bakar Siddique, at around 8 p.m. Tuesday. 

“After being [taken hostage] last night, my brother Shakil last called my mobile phone. … My brother said that the pirates have kept them all [the crew members] in one place,” Siddique told BenarNews.

No contact

Mehrun Karim, CEO of KSRM affiliate SR Shipping, confirmed that there had been no messages from the pirates.

“As a result, we have not been able to contact anyone,” he told BenarNews.

“However, we are getting to know the location of the ship. It is expected to reach the destination of the pirates by noon Thursday,” he said. “After that it might be possible to communicate.”

13 BD-ship2.JPG
An unidentified man boards the MV Abdullah, March 12, 2024, in this screengrab of a video obtained by Reuters.

Company officials announced on Tuesday that the ship had been hijacked in Indian Ocean waters earlier in the day, but conflicting reports in the Bangladeshi media suggested that the hijacking had occurred on Sunday. 

On Tuesday, Karim said the coal-hauling ship was sailing from Mozambique, in southeastern Africa, to the United Arab Emirates when its crew was hijacked by as many as 50 armed men. 

Mizanul Islam, the KSRM spokesman, said the attack occurred about 550 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia.

The Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers’ Association is joining efforts to contact the pirates by reaching out to the International Maritime Organization and International Labor Organization through the federation. 

“There are ways of communication through diplomatic channels. But since the country is a failed state, there are questions about how effective it will be,” Md. Anam Chowdhury, the association’s president, told BenarNews, referring to Somalia.

“In this case, the best way can be negotiation.” 

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.

Chowdhury said there had been no signs of the ship moving since Tuesday evening.

“This means they may have turned off the position tracking system. We assume they are taking the ship to their own destination. The hostage sailors said there are now about 50 pirates on the ship,” he said.

The Ministry of Shipping reported that 100 Bangladesh-flagged ships were sailing international routes. KRSM has the most ships and its subsidiary, SR Shipping Ltd., is operating the MV Abdullah ships.

In late 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 on Wednesday that the crew members were released after a multi-million-dollar ransom was paid. 


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