Red Sea pirates now operating in packs


It appears that pirates in the Red Sea have adopted the practice of attacking ships in large groups, a maritime security group says, following the second mass attack this month.

The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB’s) Live Piracy Reporting Centre recorded a pirate attack that occurred on Wednesday approximately 22 nautical miles northeast of Assab, Eritrea, in the Red Sea. Seven high-speed boats approached a bulk carrier underway. Two of the boats, with three to five armed pirates in each boat, approached the ship at high speed. The ship’s master raised the alarm, increased speed and took evasive manoeuvres while the crew, except for the bridge team, mustered in the safe room or ‘citadel’. The pirates later aborted the attack and moved away.

The attack was very similar to one mounted on August 7, also off the cost of Eritrea. During that incident, twelve skiffs with five to eight armed pirates in each skiff approached a bulk carrier underway. Although the vessel’s onboard security team fired warning flares at the pirates, but they continued to close in at a rate of 17 knots. At a distance of around 300 meters, on the command of the ship’s master, the onboard security team fired warning shots resulting in most of the skiffs falling back and circling the vessel.

Two skiffs continued to chase the vessel and returned fire, the IMB said. The skiffs and the security team exchanged fire and after 30 minutes and numerous approaches the skiffs aborted and moved away.
“Even underestimating the number of pirates in Wednesday’s attack to just 21, it would still seem to confirm that pirate gangs have adopted a new tactic of mass attacks in the waters surrounding Eritrea,” noted David Rider, communications officer at Neptune Maritime Security. “Intelligence sources suggest that this new trend may be a consequence of the monsoon season, but without further data, it is difficult to confirm.”

IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said last month that, “This June, for the first time, pirates fired on ships in rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon season. In the past, they would have stayed away in such difficult conditions.”

Neptune pointed out that the most recent attack occurred only 26 kilometres north of the attack on August 7th, and could suggest that this large group of pirates have a specific area of operations. “Neptune Maritime Security would like to bring this tactic to the attention of all shipping companies and seafarers who intend to transit the area,” Rider stated.

Piracy is a major problem in the waters in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and off Somalia. On Saturday Somali pirates hijacked a chemical-oil tanker with 21 Indian sailors on board from near an Omani port.

The end of the southwest monsoon winds in August marks the end of very turbulent high seas in the Gulf of Aden, making it easier for Somali pirates with small vessels to sail out and attack ships.

Somali pirates behind similar vessel hijackings usually operate in Indian Ocean waters, but in January, a 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier was seized about 150 miles southeast of Salalah, Oman.

Piracy is also becoming a problem along the rest of Africa’s coastline. On Saturday the IMB reported that twelve armed pirates boarded a chemical tanker off Cotonou, Benin, taking control of the ship and sailing to an unknown destination. The ship’s owners have been unable to contact the vessel.

As of August 18, 18 vessels and 355 hostages were being held by Somali pirates, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Up to Thursday, 22 ships have been hijacked off Somalia and seven hostages killed.