Somali pirates seize Iran fishing boat with 15 crew
NAIROBI - Somali pirates have attacked two fishing boats, capturing one from Iran with 15 crew, an anti-piracy expert said Tuesday, adding that the vessel was now heading towards Somalia's coast.
"Two vessels were attacked," said John Steed from Oceans Beyond Piracy, which tracks ships that have been attacked and helps support hostages.
One, a Thai fishing vessel, managed to break free when pirates struck on Monday, although exact details of its escape remain unclear.
But the second boat with 15 crew members is now under the control of the pirates, apparently heading towards the pirate town of Hobyo, on Somalia's Indian Ocean coast.
"The Iranian vessel appears to have three pirates on board and is heading for Somali coast," Steed said in Nairobi.
Experts have warned that rampant illegal fishing by foreign trawlers off Somalia is threatening economic gains, and could push communities back to maritime crime.
A September report by Secure Fisheries, a part of the One Earth Future Foundation campaign group, warned those advances could be reversed if illegal fishing is not stemmed.
While illegal fishing was used by many pirates as an excuse for attacks -- which saw an array of vessels seized including yachts, oil tankers and container ships -- the issue could encourage a fresh round of piracy.
"The level of illegal fishing is prompting these sort of attack -- and the potential for bringing piracy back," Steed warned.
Piracy peaked in 2011, when Somali pirates held over 700 hostages, but rates of attacks have tumbled, prompted partly by the posting of armed guards on boats and navy patrols.
With the latest attacks, the number of maritime hostages in Somalia are now 56, with two boats held.
They include 26 sailors on the now wrecked fishing boat Naham 3, who have been held since March 2012.
Two Iranian fishing boats were seized in March near Ceel Hur in central Somalia, but one boat escaped in August.
Another, the Siraj, is still being held, with 15 remaining crew held onshore, after four were freed by local authorities earlier this month.