Analysis – EU NAVFOR figures confirm the value of armed security teams in thwarting pirate attacks


Figures released this month by the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) list just 12 attacks for November in their area of operation. Whilst some sources have questioned such a low number of reported attacks, the figures themselves make for interesting reading, Neptune Maritime Security says.

Although the data does not list latitude and longitude positions for the attacks, they still demonstrate the considerable ‘reach’ Somali pirates have in surrounding waters despite the presence of the international naval force, with vessels being attacked 420 nautical miles off Mogadishu.

Neptune Maritime Security says that of more interest are the successful hijackings, with just two ships taken by Somali pirates, both of which were fishing vessels. Although increasingly fishing operators are using armed Vessel Protection Teams (VPT), there is no data available regarding these two incidents. While the measures taken to avoid hijacking in five cases are listed as ‘unknown’, just one vessel cited Best Management Practice (BMP) as the reason for its successful escape from pirates. Meanwhile, the other five merchant vessels all credited Private Armed Security guards as the reason the attacks upon them failed.

Neptune Maritime Security says that whilst this will not come as a surprise to anyone in the maritime security industry, it does reinforce the fact that so far, not a single vessel operating with an armed Vessel Protection Team has fallen into the hands of Somali pirates. With the UK government currently in discussion on how best to licence UK companies wishing to offer armed protection services to UK-flagged vessels, the success of such armed teams in November further proves the value of maritime security companies to the shipping industry.

As expected, the vessels which evaded attack in November were all ‘high value’ targets which could, if successfully hijacked, have provided their Somali captors with sizeable ransom payouts. As maritime insurance companies begin to offer considerable policy discounts to clients who use armed VPTs to guard their vessels, such data cannot be ignored by shipping companies and countries who have yet to green light the use of armed security guards onboard merchant shipping.

Despite the end of the monsoon season, the anticipated surge in attacks has not yet arrived. Risk Intelligence, a Danish maritime intelligence company, cite continued bad weather in the Horn of Africa as potentially reducing the frequency of attacks. That, combined with pressure on land from local authorities (police in Somalia’s Puntland region recently arrested 150 suspected pirates), and military action against al Shabaab by the Kenyan military may well be impacting pirate activity.

Analysts are agreed, however, that vessels employing a layered approach to maritime security which includes both the use of BMP and armed VPTs along with shore-based intelligence as the best possible means to thwart pirate attacks.

As of December 2, EU NAVFOR list ten vessels as hijacked and in the hands of Somali pirates, along with an estimated 243 hostages.