AKE presents latest Monthly Piracy Report
Global pirate activity dropped to 23 attacks over the course of June. Piracy decreased off the coast of Somalia with fewer attempted attacks recorded largely due to unfavourable weather conditions, but one hijack of an Omani dhow occurred off Masirah Island, Oman. Attacks dropped in West African waters, but three serious attacks were recorded on one day between 70-120NM off Nigeria. Attacks remained at a low level in South-East Asia. No attacks were officially recorded in Latin America. At least 245 crewmembers are currently being held, with many facing detention periods of over 300 days, at a current average of 169 days. One tanker was released for ransom, in addition to a South African couple held hostage for 597 days. Average ransom amounts are approximately US$5 million at present.
East Africa: There will be a reduced risk of piracy in East African sea lanes, the Indian Ocean and southern Arabian Sea due to poor weather conditions created by the southern monsoon season (May-September). Attacks will continue in the southern Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab Straits, southern Gulf of Aden and northern Arabian Sea; however, increased local fishing and trading craft in those may further complicate correct identification of suspicious vessels.
West Africa: Vessels will remain vulnerable up to 120NM off Nigeria, Benin and Togo, despite a drop in reported attacks. Unprepared, stationary vessels in anchorages off major ports remain vulnerable to all forms of opportunist attack.
Asia: Mostly opportunistic attacks in anchorages and ports will continue. Barges will remain at risk of boarding and theft due to slow speed and ease of access. Latin America: Opportunistic theft will remain likely in ports and anchorages.
The total number of incidents decreased by two from May’s total of 14. Of the 12 reported attacks that took place in June, there was one incident of low-level armed robbery at El Dekheila Anchorage, Egypt (not shown on map above). Of the remaining 11 attacks, one local dhow was hijacked. The monthly success rate therefore dropped slightly from last month, to nine per cent.
Due to the onset of the southern Monsoon season (May-September) weather conditions in the Somali basin, Indian Ocean and southern Arabian Sea continued to worsen, explaining the drop in attacks in those areas. As is usual during monsoon season, attacks are likely to be focused in more sheltered coastal waterways and chokepoints such as the northern Gulf of Oman and Bab al-Mandab straits in the coming weeks. Note that benign local small boat traffic may increase in these waterways, and may cause further difficulties in correct identification of suspicious craft.
On 20 June, an Omani dhow reportedly named Shamsi was hijacked 5NM east of Masirah Island, Oman at 1200 local time. The hijacked dhow is likely to be used as a mothership over the coming weeks, and will probably patrol coastal areas in the northern Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden as weather conditions further out to sea remain poor during the southern monsoon season.
The hijacking followed around six hours after an unsuccessful attack on MOL’s LNG vessel Aries approximately 35NM north-east of the position at around 0530 local time. No LNG vessels have been hijacked to date; LNG vessels generally represent difficult targets for attackers due to their high freeboards and capable speeds. This latest incident would suggest a sense of desperation on the part of the attackers, but highlights the fact that opportunistic attempts may continue on all vessel types, regardless of their physical characteristics.
On 25 June a LPG tanker was reportedly approached by two skiffs with armed men on board in the western Gulf of Oman, around 50NM east of Fujairah. The vessel deterred the attack by firing flares, and was later assisted by an Iranian warship. The incident was the second in the western Gulf of Oman in 30 days, and underlines the continued threat of attacks and approaches in choke points around the High Risk Area during the monsoon season.
On 8 June Marshall Islands-flagged Liquid Velvet, which was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in October 2011 with a crew of 22 on board, was released from pirate control after 228 days. A US$4 million ransom payment was reported. Although slightly lower than the current average settlement, the ransom amount may allow for further operations to be financed, and will serve as a valuable recruitment tool for potential pirates at a time when successful attacks are down and operations are impeded by monsoon weather.
On 24 June South African couple Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, who were kidnapped from their yacht Choizil in the Mozambique Channel in November 2010, were released by their captors. They were held hostage for 597 days, more than three times longer than the average hijacked vessel is held for. Although no ransom amount was reported in open sources, it is likely that a ransom was paid for their release; Bruno Pelizzari confirmed that a negotiation took place, and various fundraising activities were carried out by the couple’s relatives and friends and reported by the media during their time in captivity.
On 26 June it was reported that a dhow hijacked in the Arabian Sea on 21 April, reportedly Yemeni fishing vessel ALABASS, had been released from pirate control without ransom payment.
It remains to be seen how much re-investment in pirate operations will occur following the payment of the latest ransom; in recent months low attack success rates and ever increasing detention periods are likely to have increased the cost of carrying out a piracy operation, and decreased the potential returns for pirate financiers. In the longer term, the number of operations launched may be further reduced if piracy is no longer seen as an attractive criminal investment.
According to news reports, the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF), responsible for a number of reported operations against pirate bases and arrests in Puntland in recent months, shut down its activities after key donors allegedly withdrew funding. It is likely that the same activities will be picked
up after new funding is secured over the coming weeks, as has been the pattern for training and capacity building projects contracted to private organisations in Somalia over the past 10 years. The UAE, for example, since committed to further funding at a conference in Dubai. The risk to vessels at sea in the short term is therefore more likely to be constrained by weather conditions over the coming weeks.
Attacks increased by one from May to June, with just four incidents reported. All four were higher level incidents off Nigeria, three of which occurred on 30 June. It is likely that additional incidents of low-level robbery at ports and anchorages occurred, but were not reported. Operators should remain wary that many attacks and robberies go unreported off West Africa and official statistics do not necessarily reflect the realities of the maritime security environment.
In addition to the four verified attacks reported in the map above, at least two further incidents off Nigeria were reported to AKE but could not be verified and included in statistics.
On 1 June, three armed men boarded Liberia-flagged tanker Ermar off Lagos anchorage. The crew mustered safely in the citadel and emerged four hours later with no damage sustained to the vessel. It is unclear whether the attack was an attempted hijack; the fact that only three men boarded the vessel from a wooden boat suggests it may have been a lower level, opportunistic attempt at robbery.
Three further unsuccessful attacks occurred at significant distances from the Nigerian coast on 30 June, reminding operators that attacks can occur up to, and possibly beyond, 120NM from the coastline. One attack targeted a tanker underway leaving the Bonny River at 0210 local time, around 70NM SW of Port Harcourt, but was deterred by on board armed Nigerian navy guards. The two other attacks occurred at around 0630 local time 120NM south of Port Harcourt. In both attacks, the vessels avoided hijack by carrying out evasive manoeuvres but sustained fire which caused some superficial
damage to the vessels. It is unclear if the attacks were carried out by the same group, although the proximity in time and location would strongly suggest that they were.
Vessels transiting through the Gulf of Guinea are advised to employ up to date best management practices, and have a properly secured citadel capable of sustaining life for up to three days. In the event of an attack, emergency response capacity from local navies or coastguards is likely to be minimal; numerous incidents have shown that the presence of a secure citadel can significantly reduce the risk of violence faced by crew members under attack.
Several news articles reported on high-profile Nigerian naval capacity building efforts, including the arrival on 20 June of French and British naval forces to conduct three days of training, and the acquisition of three new coastal patrol craft. Such developments are likely to have minimal impact on maritime criminality in the region; regional navies remain severely overstretched and struggle to combat the theft and trade of crude and refined petroleum in the region, in addition to numerous reported and unreported piracy attacks.
Conflicting reports surrounding the Nigerian navy’s seizure of Belgium-flagged tanker MT Vanessa, and a second vessel reportedly named Princess Nnenna, hint at the extent of corruption and illegal fuel trading in Nigeria alone, which is a key driver behind general maritime criminality in the region.
Total pirate activity in the region stayed from last month’s total of seven attacks. Of the attacks recorded, all were instances of attempted or successful robbery targeting vessels at anchor. Traditional high-risk ports and anchorages, such Dumai, Adang Bay and Balikpapan in Indonesia and Manilla in the Philippines, are likely to have experienced further unreported incidents and remain high risk. Robbers and criminals are usually equipped with knives and attacks occasionally involve assault directed at crew members and possibly brief periods of hostage taking.
On 4 June, a bulk carrier was boarded by seven robbers at Belawan outer anchorage, Indonesia. Crew noticed the robbers and raised the alarm. The robbers reportedly threatened crew, but escaped empty handed. On 17 June, robbers boarded an anchored tug and barge in Kuching anchorage, Malaysia at 1330 local time. They broke open containers, stole the cargo and escaped unnoticed. Also on 17 June, robbers boarded an anchored bulk carrier in Kakinada Anchorage, India. Notably, no response was given by Kakinada port control. On 26 June a merchant vessel anchored in the Chittagong Anchorage, Bangladesh, was reportedly boarded by 15 robbers during a heavy rain shower, one of which attacked the desk watch-keeper. Robbers were able to steal ship’s stores and escape before the coast guard responded.
Each incident underlines the continued threat of robbery against vessels in anchorages throughout the region, often compounded by a lack of reliable response from local coastguards or port authorities. Basic security measures such as watch rotas, alarms and deck lighting will significantly mitigate the prospect of experiencing opportunistic attacks, and the associated risks to crews and cargo.
No attacks were reported in the region in July. However, under reporting of incidents is common and operators should be advised that instances of opportunistic criminality, petty theft and armed robbery in or near anchorages or ports in the region are likely to occur more frequently than is officially reported.
In addition, attacks on local fishing vessels, particularly off the northern coast of Guyana, Venezuela and occasionally Suriname, occur with relative frequency but are unlikely to be officially reported. Such incidents are evidence of criminal activity spreading to water, which, in the longer term, could affect foreign vessels if left unchecked.
Basic crew training, alertness and security procedures are often sufficient to prevent or deter opportunistic attacks in which crew members can be harmed and cargo and possessions stolen. Adequate deck lighting, alarm systems and watch rotas are strongly advised to mitigate the risk of robbery in ports and anchorages.
Source: AKE-GAC Protective Solutions
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