Iranian Navy vessels have disrupted a pirate attack on an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen, as sporadic pirate attacks continue in the region.
A group of eight skiffs approached an oil tanker 120 km southeast of the Yemeni city of Al-Mukalla, Iran’s FARS news agency reported earlier this week. Two vessels from the Iranian Navy’s 32nd flotilla comprising the Mowj class frigate Jamaran and supply ship Bushehr responded by opening fire on the suspected pirates, who subsequently escaped.
The Tehran Times reports that this was the fourth anti-piracy incident the 32nd flotilla has been involved in since setting sail from the port city of Bandar Abbas on November 4 in order to protect Iranian and foreign vessels in the Gulf of Aden.
In September the Iranian Navy said it had foiled a pirate attack on a Chinese container ship in the Gulf of Aden after five boats attacked the Xin Lian Yun Gang. In April 2012 Iranian forces rescued a hijacked Chinese cargo vessel and detained the pirates.
A significant number of the attempted hijackings in the Gulf of Aden have been attempted with a large group of skiffs, usually from five to a dozen, which attempt to overwhelm a ship’s defences.
One of the more recent attacks in the area occurred on December 30, when two skiffs approached a tanker under way in the Red Sea. The pirates aborted the attack after armed guards on board fired warning shots.
Iran has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the region since November 2008 after Somali pirates hijacked the Iranian chartered cargo ship MV Delight off the coast of Yemen. The Iranian Navy says it has prevented over 150 pirate attacks on vessels in recent years and escorted more than 2 000 commercial vessels.
While piracy off the Somali coast has declined in recent years (219 incidents in 2010 to 15 in 2013 and around ten in 2014, according to the International Maritime Bureau), it remains a significant problem off West Africa. Between 2012 and 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence saw a 25% jump in incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, including vessels being fired upon, boarded, and hijacked.
The International Maritime Bureau said that between January and September last year, the Gulf of Guinea recorded 33 incidents of piracy and armed robbery, a slight improvement over the 47 attacks recorded over the same period in 2013. However, US Navy figures state that nine vessels were hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea in 2014, 28 were boarded, 27 were fired upon or attempted to be boarded and 25 were victims of kidnapping.
Most attacks occur off oil-rich Nigeria’s coastline, with ships mostly hijacked for their cargo. On 22 December militants attacked a gunboat belonging to the Nigerian Navy, which was escorting a cargo barge to an oil field in the Niger Delta. It is believed that three Nigerian soldiers were killed during the attack, and the militants stole the gunboat and weapons.