Naval warship patrols stepped up to keep Somali pirates at bay

Navies committed to 'fighting the mafias' that attack ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea

Naval forces and marine monitoring groups said efforts have been stepped to stop the threat posed by Somali pirates. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Naval forces and marine monitoring groups have said an increased presence of warships in high risk areas is a crucial deterrent against a resurgence in Somali piracy.

Somali pirates hijacked a Maltese-registered cargo vessel MV Ruen on December 14, in the first successful case of hostage-taking off the coast of Somalia in six years.

Seventeen crew members were taken captive in an attack that has triggered calls for sustained vigilance from bodies such as Atalanta, a counter-piracy military operation in the region led by the EU Naval Force (Eunavfor).

“Atalanta continues to monitor the situation intensively together with the Somali police forces,” an EU Naval Force representative told The National, referring to the crew being held captive on board the MV Ruen.

Nearly 20 nations are part of Operation Atalanta, providing maritime security in the Red Sea and north-western Indian Ocean.

“Operation Atalanta remains firmly committed to maintaining maritime security in the area and allowing freedom of navigation," the representative said.

“Eunavfor’s mandate has kept the fight against piracy at the centre of its tasks.

"Therefore, we have always kept our utmost focus on these threats and remain fully committed to fighting the mafias that carry them out.”

The hijacking by Somali pirates came after a surge in attacks by Houthi rebels targeting ships passing through the Red Sea in retaliation for the military operation by Israel in Gaza.

This has led to the US and European nations sending warships to the region to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

“Co-operation between international naval forces together with the forces of the coastal countries in the area of operations, in this case Somalia, is essential to tackle any piracy threat,” the Eunavfor representative said.

“The role of regional maritime security centres, such as those in the Seychelles, Oman and Madagascar, among others, should also be highlighted. Co-operation with them ensures a much more complete and effective awareness of the maritime security situation.”

Chance of more piracy attacks

Marine monitoring groups that have advocated caution do not view the hijacking of the MV Ruen as an isolated attack and have warned that the threat of Somali piracy persists.

“Somali pirates continue to possess the capability to carry out incidents far from the Somali coast,” said Michael Howlett, director of ICC International Maritime Bureau. "Every successful hijacking increases the probability of more incidents being initiated. A continued and increased naval presence will be a contributing deterrent factor."

Somali pirates have caused chaos in vital channels, especially since a surge of activity in 2008, taking dozens of crew members hostage and demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

Following sustained efforts to combat Somali piracy for more than a decade, there was a reduction in naval patrolling with a decrease in armed attacks from 2018.

Since the start of the year, naval presence in the region looks set to build up over the next few months.

Somali pirates continue to possess the capability to carry out incidents far from the Somali coast
Michael Howlett, director of International Maritime Bureau

“Naval patrolling and interventions have been the most successful of deterrent actions in all cases of piracy and armed robbery globally,” Mr Howlett said.

“The international navies have contributed significantly to the decline of Somali piracy.

"Their continued presence in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and off the east coast of Somalia is a necessity. An increase in their presence will certainly give seafarers greater confidence while transiting these waters.”

Maritime authorities have also warned merchant vessels to strengthen measures on board to keep Somali pirates at bay.

Armed security guards on board, high-pressure water cannon and razor wire across ships to make boarding difficult are among measures that have been used to secure vessels.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 5:17 AM