Mystery surrounds hijacked Iranian ship


The MV Iran Deyanat. Photo from Maritime News Russia.

Written by Nick Grace & Abdiweli Ali, Ph.D.

A tense standoff is underway in northeastern Somalia between pirates, Somali authorities, and Iran over a suspicious merchant vessel and its mysterious cargo. Hijacked late last month in the Gulf of Aden, the MV Iran Deyanat remains moored offshore in Somali waters and inaccessible for inspection. Its declared cargo consists of minerals and industrial products, however, Somali and regional officials directly involved in the negotiations over the ship and who spoke to The Long War Journal are convinced that it was heading to Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia’s Islamist insurgents.

It was business as usual when speedboats surrounded the MV Iran Deyanat on August 21. The 44468 dead weight tonnage bulk carrier was pushing towards the Suez and had just entered the Gulf of Aden – dangerous waters where instability, greed and no-questions-asked ransom payments have led to a recent surge in piracy. Steaming past the Horn of Africa, 82 nautical miles southeast of al-Makalla in Yemen, the ship was a prize for the taking. It would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars – possibly millions – to the Somalia-based crime syndicate. The captain was defenseless against the 40 pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades blocking his passage. He had little choice other than to turn his ship over to them. What the pirates were not banking on, however, was that this was no ordinary ship.

The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship’s hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

The MV Iran Deyanat set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden, Somali officials tell The Long War Journal, was suspiciously early. According to a publicly available status report on the IRISL Web site, the ship reached the Gulf on August 20 and was scheduled to reach the Suez Canal on August 27 – a seven day journey. “Depending on the speed of the ship,” Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur said in a phone interview on Saturday, “it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez.”

A hijacked bulk carrier looms in the horizon of the beach in Eyl. Photo from Garowe Online.

Suspicion has also been cast on the ship’s crew, half of which is almost entirely staffed by Iranians – a large percentage of Iranian nationals for a standard merchant vessel. Somali officials say that the ship has a crew of 29 men, including a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, possibly Croatian.

The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates – 50 onboard and 50 onshore. Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. “Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died,” Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. “That ship is unusual,” he said. “It is not carrying a normal shipment.”

The delegation faced a tense situation in Eyl, Osman recounts. The syndicate had demanded a $9 million ransom for 10 ships that were in its possession and refused permission to inspect the Iranian vessel. At one point, he said, the pirates threatened to “blow up” the MV Iran Deyanat if authorities tried to inspect it with force. A committee of delegate members and Eyl city officials was formed to negotiate directly with the pirates in order to defuse the situation.

Once in direct contact, the pirates told Osman that they had attempted to inspect the ship’s seven cargo containers after they developed health complications but the containers were locked. The crew claimed that they did not have the “access codes” and could not open them. The delegation secured contact with the captain and the engineer by cell phone and demanded to know the nature of the cargo, however, Osman says that “they were saying different things to different people.” Initially they said that the cargo contained “crude oil” but then claimed it contained “minerals.”

“The secrecy is not clear to us,” Mwangura said about the cargo. “Our sources say it contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals.” IRISL has flatly denied the ship is carrying a “dangerous consignment” and has threatened legal action against Mwangura.

The syndicate set the ship’s ransom at $2 million and the Iranian government provided $200,000 to a local broker “to facilitate the exchange.” Iran refutes that it agreed to the price and has paid any money to the pirates. Nevertheless, after sanctions were applied to IRISL on September 10, Osman says, the Iranians told the pirates that the deal was off. “They told the pirates that they could not come because of the presence of the U.S. Navy.” The region is patrolled by the multinational Combined Taskforce 150, which includes ships from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

In a strange twist, the Iranian press claims that the U.S. has offered to pay a $7 million bribe to the pirates to “receive entry permission and search the vessel.” Officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State approached for this story refused to comment on the situation. Somali officials would also not comment on any direct U.S. involvement but one high-level official in the Puntland government told The Long War Journal “I can say the ship is of interest to a lot of people, including Puntland.”

The exact nature of the cargo remains a mystery but officials in Puntland and Baidoa are convinced the ship was carrying weapons to Eritrea for Islamist insurgents. “We cannot inspect the cargo yet,” Osman said, “but we are sure that it is weapons.”

“Puntland requested the pirates two weeks ago to hand over this Iranian ship, saying that it is carrying weapons to Eritrea,” Puntland Fisheries Minister Abdulqadir Muse Yusuf told Reuters. “I have seen food and other odd items on the ship but I do not know what is hidden underneath.”

Iran’s involvement in the conflict in Somalia on behalf of Islamist insurgents is well documented. In 2006, Iran flouted arms embargos and provided sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), intelligence sources told The Long War Journal, including SA-7 Strella and SA-18 Igla MANPADS – shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles – as well as AT-3 Sagger antitank missiles.

A report issued by the United Nations in 2006 states that weapons were transferred to Somalia through Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which also absorbed a contingent of 700 Islamist fighters from Somalia during Hezbollah’s war with Israel. The report also states that Iran provided support for Islamist training camps inside Somalia and had sent two emissaries to negotiate with the ICU for access to Somalia’s uranium mines.

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  • dealkiller says:

    This is awesome…the Iranians have been caught red handed…

  • Brent says:

    If the reports are true about the cargo being weapons as well as cemicals lethal to man to be used as weapons the Iranians should be held accountable to the UN for further sanctions. The Irainians have shown themselves in the past to be a dangerous bunch with bad intensions.

  • Jimmy says:

    I don’t believe anything out of the mouth of a Somali or Iranian.

  • Carlos says:

    But to which exact group was this shipment sent to?
    If the group is an Al Qaeda ally or affiliate, it could serve as proof that Iran is actively assisting and financing the most dangerous terrorist group in the globe and, if the trend continues, it could have disastrous implications considering the United States currently lacks the resources to wage war against Iran. Iraq might be an “almost won” fight, but with Somalia on the edge of falling, Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering constant Taliban attacks and now with Iran assisting Sunni terror groups, the prospect for the war on terror doesn’t look too good at all.

  • dave says:

    Utter non sense

  • Buff52 says:

    It is only logical, given the Iranian Shiite Islamic Jihadist Revolutionary support of Hezbollah in Lebanon since 1983, that the Iranians are trying to support any group that will further “chaos.”
    The situation is just like Nazi Germany in 1938 with most people in the West never having read “Mein Kampf.”
    The Iranians are resolved to make war and destroy Jews and America. Too bad we still have so many modern day “Neville Chamberlins.”

  • Buff52 says:

    Iranian ships should be put under a “Naval Quarantine” starting at the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. The “Naval Quarantine” should be on any materials, such as weapons and explosive chemicals, which could help terrorists. The “Naval Quarantine” operation should be carried out by one of the Standing NATO Maritime squadrons.

  • Neo says:

    I’ll bet this story sinks rather than floats.

  • Neo says:

    “Iranian ships should be put under a “Naval Quarantine” starting at the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.”

  • Render says:

    Something I was wondering back when the Russian tug was hijacked…
    What are the odds that the MV Iran Deyanat wasn’t really hijacked?
    It’s international crewmembers would have to be kept in the dark or otherwise be part of the operation, but that’s not beyond the realm of possibility. The “chemical weapons” story serves as a good cover for keeping less well equipped investigaters from close inspection while the actual cargo, (in this hypothosis light infantry arms and ammo), is unloaded.
    Is there any known connection between the group of pirates that took MV Iran Deyanat and the Somali militia that sent 300 to 700 some odd volunteers to Lebanon in 2006?
    Is there any known connection between MV Iran Deyanat and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard?
    Are these pirates just dumber then the usual 21st century pirate types? Like the taking of the Russian tug, this particular act of piracy just smells odd…

  • Private Finch says:

    Since some of the crew have died: I wonder if any of them suffered from radiation poisoning?

  • scott says:

    The article only says that some of the pirates have been affected. What about the crew? What is their condition? It just seems odd that the pirates would be the only ones getting ill….unless the crew knew where not to go.

  • KnightHawk says:

    It’s not radiation silly it’s gotta be the ghosts! 🙂
    I get that feeling that this ship will sink via multiple “mysterious” hull explosions before this mystery is solved.

  • Neo says:

    As Render suggests, the ship could simply be unloaded before it is returned rather than destroyed. Who knows, it could have been headed for Eritrea or perhaps this is where it was going all along. I’m still betting the US isn’t able to get its hands on the ship unless they take it by force.
    Somalia isn’t a delicate political situation like Pakistan. This should be dealt with directly. If the UN can’t take these pirates down within the next three months we should start directly raiding these coastal towns with our own marines. The usual parties will squawk about it. Let them squawk.
    Just stay away from Mogadishu, it’s a trap.

  • AllInOne says:

    This is TOO funny. Terrorists terrorising each other, ROFL.
    The US needs to offer what EVER it takes to get possession of the ship.
    Also, seems that the Captain and crew would KNOW to stay away from what’s below…the idiot “pirates” have never been too smart and probably went places below deck that the crew wouldn’t dare. Hilarious story if true.

  • Somali says:

    Hello World
    I wonder if anyone would belief this story, Unfortunately the majority of the people in this world are in state of uninformed!>
    What do you know about Puntland Authority, they are punch of clanish folks in Northeast Somalia, they are part of this so called pirates, Their payroll is on the ransom paid to release the Ships and their crews, The pirates/Puntland Authority is the really danger in that region.
    I know most western Countries hate Iran so they make up mysterious stories about it.

  • My2cents says:

    Symptoms are wrong for radiation poisoning.
    This is shear speculation, but I think the pirates have hijacked and broke into an ILLEGAL TOXIC WASTE SHIPMENT, possibly (and this is going way, way out on a limb) unneutralized metal etching solution. They tried to break in and some people got burned badly. It fits the few reported “facts”, and requires nothing than an appeal to greed and simple criminal behavior.
    If this is true, then the Somali pirates have a ship and a cargo that no one wants, not even them, and they are probably getting more pissed and frustrated by the hour.

  • Render says:

    (cross-posted at Information Dissemination cuz Gal rox)
    The MV Iran Deyanat’s last reported port of call was Nanjing, China.
    Nanjing, in addition to being a major Chinese shipping port, is also home to the Nanjing Xuguang Instruments Plant, the Nanjing Maritime Radar Research Institute, the Yuhe Machinery Plant, the Nanjing Special Equipment Factory, and the Chemical Machinery Plant of Nanjing – Chemical Industry Group among others. All of the above are wholly owned or subsidiaries of Norinco.
    MV Iran Deyanat’s long journey from Nanjing to the Somali coast would have seen the ship pass through several areas of note, including the Taiwan Straight, Singapore Straight, the Straights of Malacca, and somewhere close to Sri Lanka before entering the Arabian Sea. Although there is no doubt that that the MV Iran Deyanat had to cross the Arabian Sea in order to arrive at its current location, there are no reports (so far) mentioning a stop at an Iranian (or any other) port along the way.
    Question: Would it be normal for an Iranian flagged ship to by-pass Iranian ports on a journey between Nanjing and Rotterdam?
    “The MV Iran Deyanat set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client.”

  • Render says:

    Ok…I just answered one of my own questions
    “China imports almost half of the world’s seaborne iron ore, making it the largest iron ore consumer in the world “

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  • Dark Helmet says:

    I don’t understand why ‘pirates’ are not killed on the spot as they are found. It worked before.
    A few minutes of our military’s time would bring this to a quick close.
    It’s time to execute our problems.

  • howard says:

    The poison is almost certainly “sulfur mustard”, an easily made war gas. It is volatile enough and is pretty corrosive stuff. I assume they have some 50 gal drums that are leaking, thus the symptoms.

  • My2cents says:

    “Sulphur Mustard”? Do you have any information on the symptoms to back this up?
    The quantity of dangerous chemicals bulk shipped internationally is huge, including chlorine, phosgene, cyanide, oleum (102% sulphuric acid), caustic soda, nitric acid, hydrazine, etc., etc., ad nausium … (the list pretty much goes on forever).
    Mustard gas is hard stuff to clean up. It’s something you only want to use in an area you are not planning to occupy. The symptoms are also slow to appear, generally treatable, and not spectacular enough to make a very good terrorist weapon. It just does not make much sense for anyone in that part of the world to want it.

  • Scott Malensek says:

    The ship is supposed to be carrying minerals. What kind of minerals are stored in a way that requires “access codes”? Also, that ship’s got a pretty deep draft, where’s it moored?

  • Thanos says:

    Nick, thanks for the great report, I suspect everything that’s known about this ship at present is in it.
    Now what and why.
    It could actually be innocent, there are industrial chemicals shipped all the time that could kill if you were not knowledgeble about them.
    There are possibly radioactive materials that could cause these symptoms, but… it’s more likely heavy metal poisoning. (anything radioactive would have to be enriched, and either ingested or breathed.)
    Third possibility is dangerous chemicals, the reports vary with burns, hair falling out.
    So until we get verified autopsy information most likely are radiation, heavy metal poisoing, or chemicals if the stories of the deaths are true.

  • Thanos says:

    Actually the ship is floating very high in the water, very much above it’s Plimsoll line, it’s likely that it unloaded some cargo somewhere enroute.

  • Thanos says:

    Make that last the water level is well below the normal plimsoll line for a fully loaded ship in the Arabian sea to end any confusion.

  • Thanos says:

    Disregard the comments about plimsoll lines — that’s a stock photo at top of story, the lower thumb gives inadequate view to judge how loaded the ship is.

  • Dale says:

    lets just stop the whole thing sink the ship it would stop there income and make them think twice we did that with the airlines so now with the shipping lines

  • Tangibleman says:

    It is clear to me that radiation here is the issue. A dose of 3 Sv of radiation acutely would cause the deaths and hair loss as well as skin burns. Now as to what type we are all unsure. Here’s what we know. Iran has tons of uranium ore in country, so its probably not ore. It seems as if this could be an enriched load of uranium from china or north korea via china. or this could be another radioactive element type or a radioactive waste. This is rather significant as something as radioactive as this could be weaponized by terrorists.

  • Pat says:

    Why are we hearing none of this in the national media?
    The physical symptoms you describe could easily be attributed to radiation poisoning amongst other chemical/biological agents. Entire situation sounds very “fishy”

  • Harry Mannback says:

    It may just be me, but let’s at least assume portions of the cover story are true.
    At some point in China the ship was loaded with its cargo of minerals and industrial cargo.
    Yes, I know all of the nasties outlined in previous posts could easily fit into one of those categories.
    We should also assume that whatever the really nasty cargo is, it was not loaded in China, as it’s a long stretch to think China would like to be directly implicated in whatever shenanigans where to follow. That cargo was likely in the hold when the ship docked in China. Look to the previous port of call for an answer…
    What concerns me is the destination of the ship; Rotterdam. Lately, the Dutch have been publicly congratulated for the work of their intelligence service in sabotaging and infiltrating Iran’s nuclear network. Makes me wonder if this ship and its nasty cargo was in fact headed for the Dutch port of Rotterdam, and what was to happen next, courtesy of the Republican Guards.
    In my opinion, it never hurts to stop in Somalia and pick up some cannon fodder to steer the ship in while the Iranians disembark at sea.

  • James Dahl says:

    Ok let me lay out the situation for you.
    There used to be two groups of pirates, there were Hawiye pirates (who operated out of Harardhere) who served the interests of the Hawiye warlords who made up the ARPCT (the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism) which was the proxy group in Somalia financed by the US government through Ethiopia. The second group are Majerteen pirates operating from Eyl who work for the Government of Puntland, a key proxy state for Ethiopia, and by extension, a key US ally in Somalia.
    Until 2006, the ARPCT pirates were the most successful, and the Puntland pirates were the lesser group. However when the UIC destroyed the ARPCT in June of 2006, they took out the ARPCT’s main source of funds in August 2006 when they destroyed the piracy operation in Harardhere.
    This is when the Puntland pirates operating out of Eyl then had no competition. Adde Musa, the president of Puntlant, gets a cut of 40% of all the piracy profits, and the pirates are all Puntland militia on government payroll.
    Garowe is a 2 hour drive from Eyl, and it is beyond absurd to consider that they have no control over the pirates, but that’s the line anyways. This is the game, the government that is “negotiating on behalf of” the pirates are not, the demands they are “relaying” are THEIR demands. It’s government-sponsored piracy.
    The pirates are US allies, believe it or not, and the US Navy turns a blind eye to their activities.
    The UIC will be all to happy to help in combating piracy, and cut the support out from under their opponents.

  • winoceros says:

    James Dahl, does this mean that the U.S. allows the piracy as some kind of “fishing” operation? This sounds like a movie in the making. It feels a little Red Oktober to me.
    The U.S. will try anything it can think of to get a hold of what’s in that cargo bay and capture the Iranians aboard. They can also wait it out until all aboard die, as a siege.

  • CPoitevin says:

    I tried to find new articles about the boat but I didn’t.
    Do anybody know what is the current state of play now?
    Is the boat always surrounded by the Navy? And what about the ransom?
    Many thanks

  • Richard Redash says:

    FoxNews has reported this ship was returned to the Iran under a similar but slightly different spelled name…Dianat. No mention of the prior indicated suspicious cargo.

  • Rich Redash says:

    I am new to this website, but keep an eye on the Middle East and Iran. I find it almost impossible to understand how this ship was simply returned to Iran (with or without a ransom being paid), in light of the purported cargoe and the bevy of multi-national naval presence patroling said vessle in question. Where are the questions from this website, much less reporters from mainstream media outlets?
    In some regards the Urkaine ship seems like a well-timed distraction for the news…that and the global economic predictament.

  • Clay Marley says:

    I found this by an Israeli blogger posted Oct 6. He claims to have information from Russian intelligence that the entire ship was one giant dirty bomb, to be exploded after passing through the Suez canal.
    He does not state sources. No mention of the ship being returned.
    I’d sure like to see some updates on this.

  • jeff barnhart says:

    As Obama would say their noughting to weary about ha

  • Tyler says:

    Who really believes these Iranians? They will lie right through their teeth, blatently just to postpone their productions a bit longer, or to deny their involvement with nuclear capabilities.
    Oh yes, what a strange happistance that it just so happens to be a “random” ship that the pirates comandered…they planned on selling the cargo back to Iran…well they could stand to make an ungodly ammount of profit if Iran never wanted any of the rest of the world to find out what was actually inside of their ship. Now there are pirates dying (from radiation poisoning) and Iran has put their lying scum-bag mask back on.

  • Geoff says:

    This ship just arrived in Rotterdam according to Dutch media.


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