International report charts continued threat from global piracy

A report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau urged ship masters to be vigilant when sailing in high-risk areas

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Somali pirates remain a threat to merchant ships and have been responsible for the kidnap of dozens of sailors this year, according to a report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau published on Tuesday.

The hijacking of an Indian dhow in early April was one of five incidents reported off Somalia in addition to pirates opening fire on three vessels and a bulk carrier boarded by the raiders in the Gulf of Aden.

The second quarter IMB report says the incident reveals that Somali pirates "retain the skills and capacity to attack merchant ships far from coastal waters."

The report urged ship masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when sailing across the high-risk area.

Somali pirates took 39 sailors hostage from January to June this year marking the highest amount of violence against seafarers during the first half of 2017.

During the same period 31 seafarers were kidnapped by pirates of the coast of Nigeria. Half of all reports of vessels being fired upon are from pirates in that region.

Other violence against sailors included crew being threatened, injured and killed by pirates off Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Peru, Venezuela and Sierra Leone.

Unlike in Somalia where crew are typically held captive on-board the vessel, in kidnapping incidents off Nigeria the pirates remove sailors from the ships and hold them ashore. Such was the case in the Gulf of Guinea and Sulu Sea attacks, said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB.

The report advised the shipping community to stay alert off Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Red sea.

“As the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre continues to monitor the situation in the region, it cautions ship owners and masters against complacency. Somali pirates still have the capability and capacity to carry out attacks.

“The international navies are patrolling these waters to understand the patterns of life, which will allow them to identify and deter a suspected pirate activity,” the report read.

The hijacking of the UAE-managed tanker Aris 13 enroute from Djibouti to Mogadishu on March 13 ended a five-year lull in piracy attacks off Somalia’s coast after the crude oil tanker Smyrni was held in May 2012.

High pressure water canons, armed security guards on board and razor wire across the ship to make boarding difficult were among measures used to “harden” vessels over the past few years.

“Higher speeds were recommended for ships traveling in high risk area in order to make it more difficult for the pirate skiffs to attack.  The increase in speed above normal cruising speed uses much more fuel and is very expensive for ship owners,” said Jon Huggins, director of advocacy group Oceans Beyond Piracy.

Highlighting a worrying tendency of ships sailing close to Somalia, he said, “The most dangerous trend were those vessels that steered through the channel between the island of Socotra and the tip of Somalia – the so-called ‘Socotra Gap.’

“Routing away from the coast added distance, especially for those ships stopping at ports in east Africa. The distance represents valuable time and money. “

As of 30 June this year, the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has received 87 reports of incidents reflecting a global decline in piracy incidents with 97 recorded over the same period last year.

The latest piracy report for the first half of the year shows 63 vessels were boarded, 12 fired upon, four were hijacked and attacks were attempted on another eight vessels. Some 63 crew were taken hostage with 41 kidnapped from their vessels, three injured and two killed.

IMB’s 24-hour-manned Piracy Reporting Centre - which has been operating since 1991 - provides the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with data on piracy and armed robbery incidents sourced directly from vessel masters and owners.