COLOMBO: International military cum diplomatic pressure forced Somali pirates to release the oil tanker Aris 13 and its eight-man Sri Lankan crew without ransom and without injuring them in any way, the Sri Lankan Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr.Harsha de Silva, told the media here on Friday.
Dr.de Silva thanked the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap, the Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, the United Arab Emirates, the US-led Combined Maritime Force based in the UAE and the Sri Lankan navy for swinging the release.
The Puntland President was involved as the piracy took place off his country’s shores. Puntland had been the hideout and launching pad for pirates before piracy was stamped out in 2012.
The Sri Lankan Minister said that for the first time WhatsApp was used in communications and it was through WhatsApp that the Puntland President told him about the release early on Friday.
Aris 13 is said to have released the crew after the Combined Maritime Force, a 41 nation force based in the UAE and led by an American Admiral, intervened. Its entry also led to the Puntland military stopping its offensive action which might have set the oil laden tanker on fire and the Sri Lankans on board might have died in the inferno. The firing had caused great concern in Sri Lanka especially after the trapped crew called up to ask the Sri Lankan government to do everything it could to stop it. When contacted, the Puntland President assured that nothing would be done to harm the crew.
Some news agencies said that the pirates released the ship without ransom because the vessel had been hired by Somali businessmen to carry oil from Djibouti to Mogadishu. Somalian pirates take care to see that they do not harm the Somali business community which is very powerful.
Lt.Commander CRP Walakuluge said that Aris 13 was vulnerable to piracy because it was sailing close to the coast to save on fuel and was also going slowly. Further it did not have Sea Marshalls on board (again perhaps to save money). Lastly, there were no naval vessels around to rescue the captured vessel.
This is the first case of piracy off the Somalia coast since 2012. International maritime cooperation, and use of escort vessels and Sea Marshalls had forced pirates to retreat. But it is disturbing to see them back at work again.