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Piracy

Is Africa facing a new wave of piracy?

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The recent hijacking of a ship by Somali pirates was the first such incident off the Horn of Africa since 2012, and more ships are being targeted off West Africa. But why are attacks increasing and how should the international community respond?

The latest State of Maritime Piracy report by the watchdog Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) warns against security complacency in the shipping industry, particularly around the Horn of Africa. It appears the industry has gone from a state of heightened security awareness to taking its foot off the pedal.

After five years without any hijackings, the Comoros-flagged vessel Aris 13 was seized in March off the coast of Somalia. Pirates freed the oil tanker and its Sri Lankan crew three days later without ransom. But within weeks, there had been more incidents.

On the other side of the continent, piracy has not declined even though its form has changed. In its 2015 report, the OBP noted that attacks were on the rise off the West African coast.

One out of every five pirate attacks takes place there, making it the most dangerous region for seafarers.

Pirates used to seize oil tankers for their cargo but falling oil prices made this less lucrative, so there was a shift to kidnapping for ransom.

Foreign seafarers were the obvious targets, as the pirates can make higher ransom demands for them. These attacks were also reported to be more violent. That trend appears to have continued. West African governments have poor surveillance systems, which criminals can exploit.

At its peak – between 2010 and 2011 – piracy off the Horn of Africa cost the shipping industry up to $7bn (£5.42bn) annually. This prompted an international response led by the tripartite coalition of Nato, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) and the US Combined Maritime Forces.

The use of private security, which was once frowned upon, became common practice.

The associated costs and the overall success must have fed the perception that the piracy had been solved.

In November 2016, Japan scaled down its counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. Weeks later, Nato ended its operation Ocean Shield, which operated around the same area, hailing it as one of the organisation’s most successful ever missions, one which had achieved its objectives.

However, the pirates never really went away. They just could not strike because of the armed presence in their seas.

It’s a point that the former Operation Commander for EU NAVFOR Maj Gen Martin Smith explained to me more than a year ago.

“We’ve taken away the opportunity for pirates to go to sea… but we’re very conscious that the capability required is fairly basic,” he said.

“Secondly we are aware that the intent still exists. The pirate networks still exist, they’re just doing other things and we believe that if we gave them back the opportunity they would go back to piracy.”

Now it appears that that is exactly what has happened, as some of the anti-piracy units have completed their mission and have headed home.

This is coupled with the issue of illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the area.

One of the pirates who hijacked the Aris 13 told the BBC Somali Service that the foreign ships are not just depleting fish reserves but are also attacking local fishing boats.

“We were after a particular ship that destroyed some of our equipment, when we came across this one, about eight miles from the coast,” he claimed. “It came across initially as a fishing vessel, and later on, when we went inside, we discovered that it [was] a cargo ship, transporting oil. We had to hold it, because we have nothing to lose anyway.”

While these claims cannot be independently verified, it is true that vessels from elsewhere in the world come to fish illegally in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

The Stop Illegal Fishing campaign highlights a global enforcement imbalance as one of the key reasons for the trend.

As it says: “Effective controls in other regions force illegal operators to seek alternative fishing areas where the risk of being caught is lower and the sanctions if caught are less severe, such as the [Western Indian Ocean].”

The mandates of the international naval patrols are limited to counter-piracy operations, rather than maritime policing.

The problems both on the eastern and western coasts of Africa involve the absence, or poor implementation, of regional maritime strategies. Ninety per cent of Africa’s imports and exports are conducted by sea.

Its waters also include key global shipping lanes, such as the Gulf of Aden, so securing these channels would be of great value to the continent and its partners, who both need to show the will to see maritime security improved.

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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