An attack on a British-managed merchant vessel in the Somali Basin has prompted a call for renewed vigilance against pirates.
“Just one successful hijack and holding to ransom of a large merchant vessel could revive Somalia’s maritime criminal infrastructure,” said Ian Millen, director of intelligence for Dryad Maritime Intelligence, following the attack on MV Island Splendor.
She was attacked by a pair of skiffs approximately 230 nautical miles west of Hobyo. Initial warning flares from the embarked security team failed to deter the pirates who continued to close on the tanker. Although the private maritime security company managed to repel the attack, the pirates returned fire before backing down.
The attack is the first report of a merchant vessel coming under small arms fire since the end of the south-west monsoon season in the Indian Ocean; a seasonal feature which results in a cessation of pirate activity in open ocean areas. The attack also marks the first large merchant vessel to be fired upon since April 2013. Only four days after the attack, a second vessel was attacked 270 nautical miles east of the Island Splendor attack, leading Dryad Maritime Intelligence to assess the attackers came from the same pirate action group (PAG).
“Despite the pressure applied by coalition forces and the assessed depletion of pirate resources there was a likelihood we would see a break out of a PAG into the sea lanes and that the hijack and ransom of a single large merchant vessel would be all it would take to feed the infrastructure of the Somali pirate criminal enterprise. Following Monday’s report, it would appear the attack on two vessels in the space of four days confirms the Somali pirate business model is not yet broken. Continued vigilance and strict adherence to BMP (best management practice) measures in all areas are the keys to success in keeping vessels safe”.
“Although there have been significant numbers of reports of suspected pirate activity during the south-west monsoon period, especially in the waters of the Gulf of Aden and Bab el Mandeb strait, we have not considered these to be pirate related and have more likely been interactions with local traffic and fishermen. We do, however, continue to encourage all vessels and their embarked security teams to report their concerns, whilst encouraging them to understand normal patterns of behaviour to avoid tragic consequences for themselves or for the many innocent seafarers they encounter. The incident with Island Splendour is a classic example of where vigilance and a professional response paid dividends in preventing what could have been the first real pirate success of 2013,” Millen said.