Somali pirates fire shots on maritime forces

Witnesses told VOA's Somali service that the navy of Somalia's Puntland region intercepted a boat it thought was taking food to the gunmen holding the Aris 13 and its crew.

When asked whether they had informed the authorities of the situation, he said they had informed the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry.

Puntland dispatched naval forces to the area after the pirates seized the ship on Monday.

Coastal Somalis, including pirates who quit as global patrols increased and became fisherman, have complained of growing harassment by illegal fishermen and attacks by large foreign trawlers.

The incident came against a backdrop of reduced piracy activities in Somalia.

Pirates have traditionally been wary of getting caught up with the country's powerful businessmen.

"While we have seen a very welcome decline in piracy off Somalia since the last reported hijack by Somali pirates in 2012, the reality is that piracy off the coast of Somalia has not been eradicated and the underlying conditions have not changed", Lim said.

It has lessened in recent years after an worldwide effort to patrol near the country, whose weak central government has been trying to assert itself after a quarter-century of conflict.

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Illegal fishing has always been used by Somali pirates as an excuse for attacks and Steed has in the past warned that the presence of foreign vessels emptying Somali waters could reverse the gains against piracy.

Ali Shire Mohamud, commissioner of Alula district where the ship is being held, told reporters that the two sides exchanged heavy gunfire in the morning and at noon.

"These are fishermen who are infuriated with the illegal fishing off their coasts".

However, some smaller fishing vessels have recently been seized in the area.

A U.N. shipping database shows the Aris 13 is owned by Armi Shipping SA, whose address is listed in care of Aurora Ship Management FZE, a company based in the United Arab Emirates. It was flying under the flag of Liberia at the time.

Concerns about piracy off Africa's coast have largely shifted to the Gulf of Guinea.

At the peak of the piracy crisis in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.

Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats continued to face assaults.

  • Ismael Montgomery