Somali Pirates Release Iranian Seafarer After Years of Captivity

M. Sharif (HSN)

Published Sep 23, 2019 3:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

An Iranian fisherman held by Somali pirates for more than four years has finally been released, according to Iranian officials and the nonprofit Hostage Support Network. 

The fisherman, Baluchistan resident Mohammad Sharif Panahandeh, was captured from a fishing vessel in 2015 and is now in declining health. His captors released him in part because they believed that he would not survive, according to HSN negotiator John Steed. Sharif suffered from severe malnutrition and internal bleeding, and he needed a week of treatment before he was even fit to travel, Steed said. 

"Through a process of negotiation, we convinced the pirates to release him," Steed told the BBC. "In this case, there was no money exchanged, it was just a humanitarian action."

Sharif has been evacuated to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he will receive further medical attention before flying back to Iran. 

"Release of the Iranian from Somali pirates [required] a lot of help and good will, particularly from the local community, the elders and local authorities like [Galmudug State Maritime Police] and those unsung Somali members of our HSP team," HSP wrote in a social media update.  "There are three more to free, help us release them too."

Three of Sharif's shipmates are still in captivity - the very last remaining hostages held by Somali pirates, according to HSN. At the peak of the Somali piracy epidemic in 2011, hijacking and kidnapping off the Horn of Africa was a serious threat. A combination of foreign naval patrols and embarked maritime security personnel have brought the number of Somali pirate attacks to near-zero. 

"These are the only three hostages that the pirates are currently holding," Steed said. "They've moved on to other things, drug smuggling, other criminal activity."