Somali pirates are now able to attack ships in the Indian Ocean regardless of the weather, the head of the United Nations’ maritime agency said, outlining four “nightmare scenarios” unless tougher action was taken.
Until now there had been a lull in attacks during the summer and winter monsoons — which roughly run May to September and November to February — as stormy weather made it difficult for attackers to operate their frail vessels.
“Now the pirates are not interrupted by the monsoon seasons,” said Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“They can do the job 365 days a year,” he told Reuters during an international shipping conference last week in Oslo.
Without a more robust international response to the piracy threat, crews could refuse to cross the Indian Ocean, crude oil shipments could be diverted, there could be a huge oil spill or a large cruise ship could be seized, he said.
Somali pirates are using oil tankers and other huge ships they have captured as ‘mother ships’ from which they launch attacks far further out to sea than before.
“They use mother ships and they have nothing to fear from the monsoons,” Mitropoulos said.
The IMO estimated that piracy costs the world economy between US$7 billion and US$12 billion a year.
The United Nations Security Council backed the idea of special courts to try captured Somali pirates in April but put off a decision on the thorny issue of where to locate them.
“Forget establishing courts in the region or having better regulations,” said the IMO chief. “The solution is stronger political will that would translate by means of (more) naval vessels to support the (existing) efforts.”
Pirate activity has continued to escalate with the first three months of 2011 being the worst on record, the EU said, with 77 attacks and hijackings — up from only 36 in the same period of 2010.
Graham Westgarth, head of Intertanko, an organisation whose members own the majority of the world’s tanker fleet, urged the international community to disable the mother ships.
Hundreds of seafarers, mostly Indian and Philipino crew members, have been taken hostage by pirates after attacks and can be detained for eight months on average, Westgarth said.
“Over the last two years, we have had an escalating set of circumstances that could lead ultimately to the politicians having to take some form of political action,” he told Reuters.
“They have to address the issues in Somalia. They have to decide what they want to do,” he said.