Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Somali pirates still have skills to attack merchant ships – IMB

Somali pirates still have attack skillsThe hijacking of an Indian dhow in early April was one of five incidents off Somalia reported in the second quarter of 2017, the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says in its latest report.

“Added to a further three reports of vessels coming under fire and a bulk carrier boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the incident reveals Somali pirates still retain the skills and capacity to attack merchant ships far from coastal waters.”

Also in Africa, pirates in Nigeria continue to dominate when it comes to kidnappings. So far this year they have been responsible for the abduction of 31 crew members in five reported incidents. The numbers include 14 crew members taken from two separate vessels in the second quarter of the year.

The IMB report also notes “violence against crews continues with half of the vessels fired on coming from Nigeria”.

Recognising the need for a clearer understanding of under reporting in the Gulf of Guinea region the IMB, in association with Oceans Beyond Piracy, has proposed a “Community of Reporting” project aimed at encouraging all stakeholders to share reports of piracy and armed robbery with the IMB.

In its overview the IMB states: “A continuing decline in the number of reported incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships is shown in the second quarter piracy report. The first half of 2017 saw a total of 87 incidents reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre compared with 97 for the same period of the previous year”.

Recording some of the lowest figures seen in the last five years, the latest piracy report shows 63 vessels were boarded, 12 were fired on, four were hijacked and attacks were attempted on another eight in the first six months of 2017. A total of 63 crew members have been taken hostage so far this year while 41 have been kidnapped, three injured and two killed.

The encouraging downward trend was marred by the hijacking of a small Thai product tanker en route from Singapore to Songkhla, Thailand. The hijacking, at the end of June, was conducted by six heavily armed pirates who transferred 1 500 tons of gas oil to another vessel. The incident followed a similar pattern regarding a series of product tanker hijackings in the region, which occurred approximately every two weeks between April 2014 and August 2015.

“To prevent criminal gangs carrying out attacks on product tankers, the IMB PRC is calling on Malaysian and Indonesian authorities to take robust action, in the same vein as their response which brought perpetrators of the previous spate of attacks to justice”, said Pottengal Mukundan, IMB director.

Co-operation between Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines has been recognised as the fundamental reason for the decline in reported incidents in and around the Philippines – from nine in the first quarter of the year to just four in the second quarter. Overall, the number of mainly low-level attacks off Indonesia has also decreased from 24 in 2016 to 19 in 2017.

The piracy report urges ship masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting the high-risk area and to adhere to the latest version of best management practices.

In May Oceans Beyond Piracy noted that armed attacks on ships in West African waters nearly doubled in 2016, with pirates increasingly focused on kidnapping their crew for ransom off Nigeria's coast. OBP recorded 95 attacks in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea in 2016, up from 54 the previous year.

Cargo theft, once the main focus of piracy in the region, has given way to an increase in kidnappings, with 96 crew members taken hostage compared to 44 in 2015.

OBP estimated the total economic cost of maritime crime in West Africa at nearly $794 million.

West Africa has emerged as the world's epicenter for piracy in recent years after increased patrolling by international navies and ramped up on-board security largely succeeded in suppressing hijackings off the Horn of Africa.

However, those efforts are expensive. OBP estimated the total cost of counter-piracy operations in the western Indian Ocean at $1.7 billion last year.

In their heyday in 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia and held hundreds of hostages, the International Maritime Bureau said. Attacks fell sharply after ship owners tightened security and avoided the Somali coast. But they have risen again this year and the U.S. navy said it believes the spike is partly driven by severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation.