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Piracy grew off East Africa in 2017

Somali pirates.Pirate activity off East Africa doubled in 2017 compared to the previous year, according to a new report, indicating that Somali criminal networks are still capable of sophisticated attacks.

Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), in it’s The State of Maritime Piracy 2017 report, said that for 2017 it recorded a total of 54 incidents in the Western Indian Ocean Region, an increase of 100 percent from 2016, which saw 27 incidents. These incidents included one hijacking, three kidnappings, three robberies, 15 failed attacks and 32 incidents of suspicious activity.

2017 saw an increase in the number of seafarers affected by incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea, from 545 in 2016 to 1 102 in 2017. For the first time in two years, OBP recorded incidents of hijacking and kidnapping at sea off East Africa. Suspicious activity continued to be the highest represented incident in the region in 2017. There was a significant increase from 13 recorded incidents in 2016, to 32 in 2017.

“The short surge in hijacking attacks in the first quarter of 2017 has been attributed to several factors. These include the continued intent of pirate action groups to launch attacks and the opportunity to do so, due to lessened adherence to ship self-protection measures, including Best Management Practices (BMP). Independent deployers represented the primary naval presence in the region, but both coalition forces and independent deployers decreased days of operation, or days on station in the region, in 2017.

“As in previous years, the capability and intent of pirate networks has not decreased, as was witnessed with the increased number of hijackings, including of the Aris 13, the Asayr 2, the and Al Kausar,” Oceans Beyond Piracy said. The 23 March 2017 hijacking of the Aris 13 tanker off Somalia marked the first successful hijacking of a merchant ship in five years. Two dhows were also attacked off Somalia.

“Although the attacks on the Aris 13 and other ships demonstrated pirate activity not often seen in recent years, OBP does not believe that this suggests the re-emergence of large-scale piracy in the Horn of Africa. Such activity continues to reinforce the need for vessels to adhere to industry Best Management Practices (BMP),” Oceans Beyond Piracy said.

It added that spillover from the political conflict in Yemen continued to affect the maritime space in the region, with a number of incidents occurring off the coast of Yemen. While these threats are expanding, shipping behaviour has remained constant.

“The array of threats in this region makes clear the need for a comprehensive maritime security approach. The insecure environment allows piracy and other maritime crimes to thrive and continue unabated. The long-term solution for piracy includes the need for the establishment of a secure maritime space.”

The cost of piracy in East Africa reached $1.4 billion in 2017 (including $292 million spent on embarked security and $199 million on international naval activities), down from $1.7 billion in 2016 and $7 billion in 2010 during the peak of attacks by Somali gangs.

Since then, the presence of international naval forces, the deployment of private armed guards on board vessels and defensive measures by ship captains has curbed activity.