Increase in piracy off Somalia a concern

223

“Worrying” is the word used by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to describe the increase to date this year of piracy in the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

Its first quarter report notes the “continued threat” of Somali piracy, with two hijackings, one vessel fired at and boarded and another reporting an attempted approach. “These incidents,” the IMB report reads, “were attributed to Somali pirates who demonstrate mounting capabilities, targeting vessels at great distances from the Somali coast”.

A Bangladeshi flagged bulk carrier was hijacked on 12 March and its 23 crew taken hostage by over 20 Somali pirates. The vessel was underway 550 nautical miles (NM) from Mogadishu en route from Mozambique to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A 40-hour operation by the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean in mid-March ended successfully with 35 Somali pirates captured and the release of a previously hijacked vessel and its 17 crew.  A bulk carrier boarded by pirates on 4 January over 450 nm off the east coast of Somalia was rendered safe along with its 21 crew members by an Indian naval vessel.  In late January, the Seychelles Coast Guard intervened to safeguard a hijacked fishing vessel and its six member crew. Three suspected Somali pirates were apprehended in this operation.

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Secretary General John WH Denton said of the increase in piracy off Somalia, including reports of several hijacked dhows and fishing vessels – “ideal mother ships” – it was “worrying”. “Now more than ever it is crucial to protect trade, safeguard routes and the safety of seafarers who keep commerce moving. All measures to ensure the uninterrupted free flow of goods throughout international supply chains must be taken.”

In support of Denton, IMB Director Michael Howlett repeated the bureau’s ongoing concern as regards Somali piracy incidents. He commended the Indian Navy and Seychelles Coast Guard for good work done intercepting hijacked vessel, safeguarding crews and capturing pirates.

On the western side of Africa, the Gulf of Guinea – for many years the international piracy hotspot – reported “a reduced level of incidents” for the first quarter: six as against five for the same period last year. In one, nine crew were kidnapped from a product tanker on New Year’s Day 45 nm south of Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island.

On the Gulf of Guinea Howlett noted the reduction pointing out piracy and armed robbery in the area remains a threat with a continued and robust regional and international naval presence necessary to respond.

Across the world’s oceans, the first quarter of 2024 saw 33 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against and of ships reported to the IMB. This is six more than in the corresponding period last year.

Of the 33 incidents reported, 24 vessels were boarded, six had attempted attacks, two were hijacked and one was fired on. Violence against crew continues with 35 crew members taken hostage, nine kidnapped and one threatened.

There was a noticeable increase in reported low-level opportunistic crimes in Bangladeshi waters in the first quarter with seven reported incidents received – six from vessels at anchorage in Chattogram – compared to one for 2023.

The Singapore Straits recorded five incidents against four large bulk carriers and a general cargo vessel, all considered low-level opportunistic incidents. The threat to crew safety remains high as five crew members were taken hostage in three separate incidents in January.