The reasons behind release of MV Abdullah in relatively short time

MV Abdullah

There is very little precedent for release for a hijacked ship within one month off the coast of Somalia. Taking this into account, MV Abdullah was released in a relatively faster time. Officials involved in the settlement process believe that the previous experience of the ship's owning company, the KSRM Group, and mounting pressure on the pirates has sped up the process.

The Somali pirates hijacked Bangladeshi ship MV Abdullah along with its 23 crew members from the Indian Ocean on 12 March. The pirates left the ship with ransom at around 12:08 am local time on Saturday. The pirates left the ship 32 days after taking it hostage from the Indian Ocean. The Somali pirates hijacked MV Jahan Moni, also owned by KSRM Group, in 2010. It took the authorities 99 days to free that ship.

On 16 March, a commando operation by the Indian Navy rescued a Bulgarian ship named MV Rouen. The ship was held hostage for three months. Earlier, the pirates hijacked an Israeli ship but were unsuccessful. The ship was rescued by the International Navy after a day.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia peaked between 2009 and 2012. The piracy came down to zero after 2012. Two ships were hijacked in 2017 but were later rescued. During the peak of piracy, it took several months on average to rescue a hijacked ship.

Under a project titled 'Oceans Beyond Piracy', the US-based non-governmental organisation One Earth Future Foundation conducted a survey on piracy off the coast of Somalia a decade ago. According to the organisation's 'The Economic Cost of Somali Piracy 2012' report, a total of 31 ships were released in 2011 by ransom. Average time to get each ship released was 178 days. In 2012, it took eight hijacked ships an average of 316 days to release by ransom.

We started work to release the ship from day one. Our main goal was to ensure that we could bring back crew men quickly and safely. Due to prior experience, we could advance with negotiation processes with the pirates
Shahriar Jahan Rahat, KSRM Group’s deputy managing director

Asked how MV Abdullah could be freed in such a short time, KSRM Group’s deputy managing director Shahriar Jahan Rahat told Prothom Alo, “We started work to release the ship from day one. Our main goal was to ensure that we could bring back crew men quickly and safely. Due to prior experience, we could advance with negotiation processes with the pirates. Pirates were also under pressure as the International navy  increased its drive following an increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia. The government also gave us all possible support in rescuing the ship.”

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Two officials of KSRM Group and commercial ship said the pirates have hijacked many ships during the incident of MV Jahan Moni. They were releasing the ships one by one. The pirates had cash inflow at that time, so they did not have any haste in negotiation. The situation was changed this time as the pirates don’t have enough cash flow. Although the pirates resumed hijacking last November, they had to release two ships without receiving any ransom. In the end, the pirates had only one ship—MV Abdullah—in their control. So they were in a hurry to collect ransom. This led to quick settlement of the issue.

Malaysian-registered ship MV Albedo holds the record of longest captivity by Somali pirates. The pirates hijacked the ship on 26 November in 2010. The ship sank on 7 July 2010. After being freed in phases, the last crewmen of the ship were released on 7 June in 2014, after remaining in captivity for 1,280 days or three and half years.

Crewmen on board MV Abdullah pose with flag of Bangladesh after they were released by Somali pirates

Apart from commercial ships, a fishing vessel was kept captive for a long time. The vessel named FV Prantalay-12 was in captivity by Somali pirates between 18 April in 2010 and 25 February in 2015.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a press release on 27 February said this is the longest period of captivity by any hostages of Somali pirates. Of the 24 crew members on board the vessel, six succumbed to illness at various stages of captivity. 14 crew members from Myanmar were released in 2011 and the last four crew members were freed on 25 February in 2015.

Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers Association president captain Anam Chowdhury told Prothom Alo that the situation in Somalia coast is different than ten years ago. The captor pirates had fewer hijacked ships at their disposal and they were in need of money. Meanwhile, MV Abdullah owning company KSRM Group also wanted to settle the issue quickly. That’s why freeing MV Abdullah was possible within a relatively shorter time.