One of Somalia’s most notorious pirates, Mohamed Abdi Hassan alias Afweyne or “big mouth”, has announced his retirement after years of terrorising seafarers on the Indian Ocean.
At a press conference called Wednesday at Adado town, the capital of a self-styled authority in Central Somalia some 500 km north of Mogadishu, Hassan said that he had abandoned all activities involving the hijacking of ships, boats and crew for ransom.
“After being in piracy for eight years, I have decided to renounce and quit, and from today on I will not be involved in this gang activity,” he told reporters, accompanied by nearly a hundred fellow pirates, plus officials from the Himan and Heb State of Somalia.
Last year he was described as “one of the most notorious and influential leaders” in Somalia’s pirate hub Hobyo, in a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
Hassan did not provide a reason for his change of direction, but he said he has also been working to persuade other pirates to follow his example.
“I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy too, and they have done it,” Hassan said.
Pirate attacks off Somalia have plummeted to a three-year low thanks to beefed up naval patrols and teams of armed security guards aboard ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Last year Hassan was reportedly given a diplomatic passport by Somalia’s then president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, according to the UN monitoring group’s June 2012 report.
Sharif told the UN experts that the “diplomatic status was one of several inducements intended to obtain the dismantling of his pirate network”, the report read.
Somalia has been ravaged by a relentless conflict since 1991, and a lack of effective central authority has allowed pirate gangs, extremist militia and other armed groups to control mini-fiefdoms.
However, the political situation in Somalia has improved in recent months, with the selection of a new government and the massive military advances made against Islamist forces by African Union and government soldiers.
Local officials welcomed Hassan’s announcement.
Mr Mohamed Abdullahi Aden Tee’ay, the president of the self-made Himan and Heb State of Somalia, who was present, said he was happy that youth involved in piracy are renouncing the activity.
He added that the former pirates had set free three Syrian hostages.
“The three Syrian hostages released by the pirates are ready to fly to their country to rejoin their families,” said Mr Tee’ay. He added that no ransom was paid.
But Mr Tee’ay had a message for the international community. “I urge the foreign vessels to stop trespassing the Somali waters and conducting illegal activities (fishing and dumping of toxic waste).”