Piracy reaches the Maldives

Approximate position of hijack
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The hijack of a ship by Somali pirates in the waters of the Maldives may in future keep cruising yachts away from the idyllic necklace of atolls in the central Indian Ocean. Up until now, the Maldives has been a popular stopping place on the way across the Indian Ocean, whether the yachts are headed for the Red Sea or for Africa.

With no yachts expected to venture via the Red Sea, the Maldives has still been a good rest point and offered an interesting stay for passing yachts on their way to the longer route around Africa - but maybe no more.

In an alarming expansion of the zone known to be frequented by pirates, the Bolivian-flagged vessel the MV Eglantine, with 23 crew members on board, was hijacked this week a mere 190 nautical miles north west of Hoarafushi Island in the Haa Alif Atoll.

This information has been confirmed by Major Abdul Raheem, spokesperson for the Maldives National Defence Force. (MNDF)

The MNDF have dispatched defence vessels to the scene of the hijacking.

'Since it is a hijacking it is possible that the pirates will be armed. I cannot give further details on the mission. There are factors to be considered before going to a direct confrontation or rescue,' said Major Raheem. Foreign authorities have been asked for assistance, he confirmed.

The attack occurred this week and was reported to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) station on Villigili.

Though acts of piracy have been reported near the Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Monday’s attack is the first to happen in Maldivian waters.

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls. This traffic has increased as merchant ships avoid the western Indian Ocean. It is believed that the pirates are merely following the ships eastwards.

Since 2010 boats full of Somalian refugees have been also washing up on Maldivian shores. Last week 40 Somalis who washed up have refused to be repatriated, invoking the the international convention on refugees, to which the Maldives is a party. The Maldives will be forced, by the convention, to allow the Somalis to remain.

The Seychelles has already become off-limits for most prudent cruising sailors, and now it seems that the Maldives is likely to follow suit.