Somali pirates may be preparing for more attacks on shipping after their first successful hijack in December for six years, the International Maritime Bureau warned on Thursday.

The seizure by suspected pirates of the 41,600-dwt Bulgarian handymax bulker Ruen (built 2016) in mid-December was followed by the hijacking of several small Arab trading vessels, said the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in its latest annual report.

The dhows have potential use as mother ships for further attacks in the Arabian Sea off Somalia, it added. “This is a cause for concern” that demonstrates the continued threat from Somali pirates, said IMB director Michael Howlett.

“Although only one incident recorded, it cautions vessel owners and masters against complacency,” said the report. “Somali pirates still retain the capability and capacity to carry out attacks far from coast.”

It warned ships with armed guards on board to be cautious and “not mistake fishermen for pirates in some heavy fishing areas”.

A second ship was boarded by a group of armed men on 4 January off the coast of Somalia but the invaders appear to have fled before Indian commandos stormed the 170,100-dwt Lila Norfolk (built 2006) the next day. The crew had been holed up in the citadel.

In the only successful attack so far, the Navibulgar-owned Ruen was steered to the coast of Puntland after the pirates broke into the citadel where the 18 seafarers were sheltering and took hold of the ship.

That attack came a few weeks after the attempted hijacking, apparently also by Somalis, of the 20,000-dwt tanker Central Park (built 2015).

The IMB figures showed a small increase in maritime piracy incidents in 2023 — a total of 120, compared with 115 the year before.

But the impact on seafarers was much higher: 73 were kidnapped or held hostage compared with 41 in 2022.

One seafarer was injured after a bulk carrier was boarded in the Malacca Strait in October. It was the first time a crew member had been injured by pirates in the area since 2015.

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