Somali pirates on Friday launched their first attack of the year against a merchant vessel south of Oman, but were repelled by an onboard security team.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the vessel was attacked in the late hours of January 17 by men in a skiff, who were operating from a mother ship. The ship’s master raised the alarm and took evasive action, evacuating non-security personnel to the protected citadel. An onboard security team exchanged fire with the pirates, who eventually gave up the pursuit and returned to their dhow mother ship.
The attack, the first of 2014, comes days after the IMB issued a report saying that piracy was down to its lowest level in years.
“This incident shows that, despite the very clear decline in the scope and scale of Somali piracy, as evidenced by the IMB’s latest report and Dryad Maritime Intelligence’s own figures, the threat remains very real,” said Ian Millen, Director of Intelligence, Dryad Maritime Intelligence.
“There has been a clear reversal of fortune for Somali pirates in the last two years; the combined effects of proactive naval operations, compliance with anti-piracy BMP 4 [Best Management Practices] measures and the embarkation of armed security guards have made life more difficult for maritime criminals, but the problem is only broadly contained and is unlikely to be totally eradicated until a solution is found on the ground in Somalia,” Millen said.
Dryad Maritime Intelligence pointed out that no vessel has ever been hijacked with an armed security team on board and that without armed guards, 2013 might not have been quite as bad a year as it was for Somali pirate gangs. “With five merchant vessels and one fishing vessel attacked between the end of the SW Monsoon and year end, we could have seen a very different picture as we began 2014,” the maritime security company said. In each of the Somali pirate attacks above, four in the Somali Basin/Indian Ocean and two in the Gulf of Aden, embarked security teams were involved in deterring or repelling the attackers.
Dryad said that the most worrying attacks of 2013 occurred in the Somali Basin and Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles out to sea where it is difficult for international warships to respond quickly. One pirate action group managed to conduct attacks on two separate ships on 6 and 9 November before NATO naval forces arrived to disrupt the group the day after the second attack, the company emphasised. “Fortunately, both ships attacked had the benefit of armed guards and were able to defend against the pirates.”
“With reports of more naval disruptions than pirate attacks in 2013 and the recent publication of the IMB’s annual figures, it is clear that the tide has turned for those who seek financial gain from the misery of others. But the most recent night time attack on 17th Jan – the first of 2014 – in the shipping lanes beyond the immediate protection of naval forces, is the clearest reminder of Somali pirate intent and capability,” Millen said.
“They may have taken a beating in 2013, but this attack has shown that Somali pirates still have the knowledge, the determination and the logistic capability to mount attacks against vulnerable ships.”
Earlier this month the IMB released a report saying that last year only 15 incidents of piracy off the Somali coast were reported to the International Maritime Bureau, down from 75 in the previous year. Piracy last year reached its lowest level internationally with 264 attacks recorded worldwide. This represents a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
A combination of factors, including the key role of international navies, hardening of vessels, use of private armed security teams and the stabilising influence of the central Somali government have all contributed to the drop in pirate attacks and incidents, which numbered 237 in 2011 off the Horn of Africa, the IMB said.
The IMB annual piracy report shows more than 300 people were taken hostage worldwide at sea last year and 21 injured, nearly all by guns or knives.
Twelve vessels were hijacked, 22 fired on and a further 28 attempted attacks were reported to the Piracy Reporting Centre.
The 15 incidents attributed to Somali pirates last year include two hijacked vessels, both of which were released within a day as a result of naval actions. A further eight vessels were fired upon. These figures are the lowest since 2006 when 10 attacks were recorded off the Somali coast.
As of 31 December 2013, suspected Somali pirates continue to hold 64 crew members from vessels hijacked between April 2010 and March 2012.