Pirates Thought to Control Bulgarian Bulker as it Sails Toward Somalia

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Pirates likely from Somalia are thought to be in control of the Navibulgar dry bulk carriers Ruen. The shipping company told Bulgarian media that it has not had direct contact with the ship since yesterday. The last signal from the security officer was that they were not in control of the vessel but that the crew was safe.

Speaking on Bulgarian TV, Alexander Kalchev, director of the company, said “We expect the kidnappers to contact us. The area where the ship was last detected is not a pirate area.”

The company lost contact with the vessel which was built in 2016 and is registered in Malta while it was approximately 380 nautical miles east of the island of Socotra, Yemen in the Arabian Sea. The vessel, which is 41,600 dwt, was traveling from Korea bound for Turkey. There are 18 crewmembers aboard including eight from Bulgaria.

The reports are saying it is unclear since there has been no contact if the incident is at all related to current problems in Yemen or possibly a resurgence of Somali piracy. Reuters however is reporting it had contact with the rebels in the Puntland region of Somalia who are saying they have managed to seize a vessel. 

A brief AIS transmission was detected from the vessel earlier today approximately 24 hours after it was thought to have been seized. Earlier reports had said the vessel was drifting and yesterday UK security consultant Ambrey said the vessel had been sailing erratically. The recent signal shows the vessel traveling due west toward Somalia at 12.3 knots. 

It would be the first capture of a large commercial vessel by Somali pirates since 2017. An international security effort was successful in reducing the threat over the past few years. However, there was a recent report from Somalia that a small commercial fishing vessel had been seized and was being held for ransom. Those reports said the pirates were threatening to use the ship as a mother vessel for more attacks, but EUNAVFOR later said the pirates had been handed over to the Somali authorities and that the threat was over.

The United States has also blamed the recent boarding of the tanker Central Park on Somali pirates. A team from the U.S. Navy captured five individuals who boarded the ship and said that after meeting with them the indications were that they were from Somalia.

The joint European security operation EUNAVFOR reports today that a Spanish destroyer the Victoria was proceeding at a fast speed to “the alleged pirate-hijacked vessel to gain more awareness and evaluate following actions.” They said they would also be coordinating with the Combined Maritime Force based in Bahrain.

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assembled a specialized team to handle the situation. Malta as the ship’s flag state reports it is also monitoring developments.

United Kingdom Trade Organization also issued a security warning today alerting ships of potential piracy activity off the Somali coast. They have posted the warning to run through December 17.

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