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Piracy

International report charts continued threat from global piracy

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Somali pirates remain a threat to merchant ships and have been responsible for the kidnap of dozens of sailors this year, according to a report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau published on Tuesday.

The hijacking of an Indian dhow in early April was one of five incidents reported off Somalia in addition to pirates opening fire on three vessels and a bulk carrier boarded by the raiders in the Gulf of Aden.

The second quarter IMB report says the incident reveals that Somali pirates “retain the skills and capacity to attack merchant ships far from coastal waters.”

The report urged ship masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when sailing across the high-risk area.

Somali pirates took 39 sailors hostage from January to June this year marking the highest amount of violence against seafarers during the first half of 2017.

During the same period 31 seafarers were kidnapped by pirates of the coast of Nigeria. Half of all reports of vessels being fired upon are from pirates in that region.

Other violence against sailors included crew being threatened, injured and killed by pirates off Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Peru, Venezuela and Sierra Leone.

Unlike in Somalia where crew are typically held captive on-board the vessel, in kidnapping incidents off Nigeria the pirates remove sailors from the ships and hold them ashore. Such was the case in the Gulf of Guinea and Sulu Sea attacks, said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB.

The report advised the shipping community to stay alert off Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Red sea.

“As the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre continues to monitor the situation in the region, it cautions ship owners and masters against complacency. Somali pirates still have the capability and capacity to carry out attacks.

“The international navies are patrolling these waters to understand the patterns of life, which will allow them to identify and deter a suspected pirate activity,” the report read.

The hijacking of the UAE-managed tanker Aris 13 enroute from Djibouti to Mogadishu on March 13 ended a five-year lull in piracy attacks off Somalia’s coast after the crude oil tanker Smyrni was held in May 2012.

High pressure water canons, armed security guards on board and razor wire across the ship to make boarding difficult were among measures used to “harden” vessels over the past few years.

“Higher speeds were recommended for ships traveling in high risk area in order to make it more difficult for the pirate skiffs to attack. The increase in speed above normal cruising speed uses much more fuel and is very expensive for ship owners,” said Jon Huggins, director of advocacy group Oceans Beyond Piracy.

Highlighting a worrying tendency of ships sailing close to Somalia, he said, “The most dangerous trend were those vessels that steered through the channel between the island of Socotra and the tip of Somalia – the so-called ‘Socotra Gap.’

“Routing away from the coast added distance, especially for those ships stopping at ports in east Africa. The distance represents valuable time and money. “

As of 30 June this year, the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has received 87 reports of incidents reflecting a global decline in piracy incidents with 97 recorded over the same period last year.

The latest piracy report for the first half of the year shows 63 vessels were boarded, 12 fired upon, four were hijacked and attacks were attempted on another eight vessels. Some 63 crew were taken hostage with 41 kidnapped from their vessels, three injured and two killed.

IMB’s 24-hour-manned Piracy Reporting Centre – which has been operating since 1991 – provides the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with data on piracy and armed robbery incidents sourced directly from vessel masters and owners.

Briefing Room

Somalia welcomes 41 nationals released from Indian jails, more to follow

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The Federal Government of Somalia on Friday welcomed home forty-one nationals who had been in Indian jails for piracy related offences.

The returnees were welcomed at the Mogadishu International Airport by Prime Minister Ali Hassan Khayre and other government officials.

A Voice of America journalist, Harun Maruf said the former detainees were released after negotiations between the two countries.

He added that: “They were part of 120 Somalis arrested by India navy after being suspected of involvement in piracy acts, some have served their jail terms.” Two of them are said to have died in prison.

The Prime Minister later wrote on Twitter that the government will continue to do all it takes to return Somalis languishing in jails outside the country. Reports indicate that 77 others will be freed in the coming months.

The Somali government in 2017 secured the release of over twenty of its nationals held in neighbouring Ethiopia’s jails.

The government was also instrumental in the release of a top Somali journalist who was jailed in Ethiopia.

The Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo government, however, attracted public outrage by handing over a Somali national to the Ethiopian government.

A move that was slammed by Somalis and by human rights groups who claimed Mogadishu had virtually handed him over to be tortured.

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Piracy

What is happening to Africa’s pirates?

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MODERN African pirates prefer machetes, machineguns and ransoms to cutlasses and parrots. They can make millions of dollars from one captured ship.

Ten years ago Somalia’s coast was the centre of the maritime-hijacking world. The country lacked a coastguard or functioning state machinery, which allowed heavily armed pirates to sail up to huge cargo vessels in speedboats before boarding and taking crew and ship hostage. But 2017 was not a good year for buccaneers.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which monitors crime at sea, global piracy and robbery at sea dipped to their lowest points in over two decades. So what is happening to Africa’s pirates?

The peak years of the Somali piracy crisis were 2007 to 2012. Attacks across the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea took place nearly daily. In 2011 there were 237 attacks in the region, reportedly costing businesses and insurers $8.3bn (£5.1bn). Recently, however, Somali piracy has plummeted.
According to the IMB, just nine vessels were hijacked off the Somali coast last year. This is in part because regional security has improved dramatically. The Gulf of Aden leads to the Suez canal, through which roughly 10% of global trade flows. After scores of kidnaps and hijackings, the world launched a huge naval anti-piracy effort in 2008.

For the first time since the second world war, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council deployed forces together, with the aim of countering the threat and patrolling the Somali coastline. Along with the introduction of armed guards, barbed wire and evasive-manoeuvre training on merchant ships, this campaign has slashed the number of successful boarding incidents off Somalia, according to Henry MacHale at Aspen Insurance.

Somali pirates may have hung up their Kalashnikovs for now, but on the other side of Africa, piracy off the Nigerian coast is increasing. In 2017, 33 incidents of piracy and robbery at sea, successful or otherwise, were reported within 12 nautical miles of the coastline.

In 2011 there were ten. Ultra-violent Nigerian pirates armed with heavy machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades are often behind the attacks. Somali pirates usually board vessels, then drop anchor and hold them until they get ransom money.

Nigerian pirates are different. They move fast, take part in ferocious gun-battles and snatch victims off ships before retreating into the Niger Delta’s maze of rivers, where it is very difficult for security forces to find them.

The number of kidnappings is also sky-high. According to the IMB, 65 of the 75 crew members kidnapped in 2017 were taken in or around Nigerian waters.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches from Gabon to Liberia, has not reached the levels it did off Somalia. But Cyrus Mody from the IMB suggests that the figures underplay the danger.

The IMB’s data do not include attacks on fishing craft or ferries, which are certainly being terrorised by the pirates. Additionally, it seems likely that operators are not reporting some incidents.

“Over the years [the Nigerian pirates] haven’t been arrested or prosecuted it seems,” says Mr Mody. “Ship owners have lost trust in the system.” By reporting an incident they risk suffering violent attacks on their ships in future. So they stay quiet.

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Briefing Room

Piracy, armed robbery against ships falls to two-decade low: report

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NAIROBI – A total of 180 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery were reported in 2017, the lowest annual number of incidents since 1995 when 188 reports were received, a global maritime body said on Wednesday.

The latest report released in London by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reveals that pirates boarded 136 vessels in 2017, while there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels fired upon and six vessels hijacked.
Despite the fall, the global maritime body cautioned foreign vessels/masters not to be complacent as they transit the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.

According to IMB, in 15 separate incidents, 91 crew members were taken hostage and 75 were kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents. Three crew members were killed in 2017 and six injured.
In 2016, a total of 191 incidents were reported, with 150 vessels boarded and 151 crew members taken hostage.
The report also called on shipmasters to follow the industry’s Best Management Practices and continue to remain vigilant as they sail through waters off Somalia.

The report said nine incidents were recorded off Somalia in 2017, up from two in 2016. In November, a container ship was attacked by armed pirates approximately 280 nautical miles east of Somali capital Mogadishu.
The pirates, unable to board the vessel due to the ship’s evasive maneuvering fired two RPG rockets, both of which missed, before retreating.

The IMB said six Somali pirates were subsequently detained by European Union Naval Force, transferred to the Seychelles and charged with “committing an act of piracy” where they face up to 30 years’ imprisonment, if convicted.
“This dramatic incident, alongside our 2017 figures, demonstrates that Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to launch attacks against merchant vessels hundreds of miles from their coastline,” Mukundan said.
According to IMB, there were 36 reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea last year with no vessels hijacked in this area and 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members in or around Nigerian waters. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon — including seven in the Gulf of Guinea.

The drop in piracy incidents is however a relief to shipping companies using the Indian Ocean that had in previous years been the target of pirates, often paying heavy ransom to secure release of their vehicles and the crew.
The African maritime industry, along the Indian Ocean had until 2013 been greatly affected by piracy that raised the costs of shipping as insurance companies and private ship security companies increased their premiums to mitigate the risks.

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