Ships warned to remain vigilant against Somali pirates as monsoon approaches

Navies caution merchant vessels off Yemen and Oman that crews are trained, desperate and ready to take risks

In this photo taken Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, masked Somali pirate Abdi Ali stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. The empty whisky bottles and overturned, sand-filled skiffs that litter this shoreline are signs that the heyday of Somali piracy may be over - most of the prostitutes are gone, the luxury cars repossessed, and pirates talk more about catching lobsters than seizing cargo ships. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
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Navies and marine monitors have warned that Somalian pirates may use the monsoon approaching the Arabian Peninsula as cover for attacks on merchant ships.

Choppy seas during the monsoon make it difficult for pirates in their swift, small skiffs, but experts said pirates would test waters in the Gulf of Aden, where weather conditions are not as severe.

“Somalian pirates continue to approach ships from time to time to determine the level of hardening security,” said Cyrus Mody, assistant director of the International Maritime Bureau.

Hardening refers to razor wire placed across the ship to deter boarding by raiders, high-pressure water hoses and armed guards.

“The continued fragile state of Somalia, along with ongoing regional conflicts, continues to be a risk to all merchant and local shipping,” Mr Mody said.

He said the bureau continuously broadcasts messages to ships in the region with information and any incidents of Somalian piracy.

There have been 66 attacks worldwide up to March, of which two took place in this region. But the number of attacks dropped to 179 last year from 191 in 2016 and 246 in 2015.

Alvaro Sanmarti / The National
Alvaro Sanmarti / The National

Two skiffs with armed pirates chased and fired on a tanker in the Gulf of Aden on March 31. They aborted the attack when the guards returned fire. The ship sustained minor damage, the bureau said.

The overriding message in the bureau’s piracy report for the first three months of this year to shipowners, masters and crew was that they should not relax security protocols. “Somalian pirates continue to possess the capability and capacity to carry out attacks,” the report said. “It appears they may now be seeking the opportunity.

“The threat of these attacks still exists in the waters off the southern Red Sea, Bab Al Mandeb, Gulf of Aden including Yemen and the northern Somalian coast, Arabian Sea, off Oman and off the eastern and southern Somalian coast.

“Somalian pirates tend to be well armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, and sometimes use skiffs launched from mother vessels that may be hijacked fishing vessels or dhows, to conduct attacks far from the Somalian coast.”

While the number of attacks has reduced significantly because of warships policing international waters, co-operation is crucial.

“Inter-monsoon periods are the times when piracy threats can increase,” said Lt Col David Fielder, Royal Marines spokesman with the EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta.


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“The requirement for vigilance when transiting this area, together with the timely reporting of all suspicious incidents, remains crucial. We request that during an incident, when feasible and without endangering the vessel or her crew, imagery is taken of those involved.

“A detailed description of vessels, objects and behaviour observed are vital contributors to the analysis and assessment of the threat. Reports should endeavour to provide as much factual detail as possible and avoid speculating when only limited information is available.”

Organisations that work with families of piracy victims also warned that crews are trained.

“The pirates will try and push in before the monsoon sets in,” said Chirag Bahri, South Asia director for the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network.

“They can get desperate to attack, so training seafarers must continue because they are ones who are directly affected in any attack.

“We are advising shipping companies to continue instructions to crew so that they do not lose focus during this time.

“They must maintain proper lookouts during bad weather because that is when complacency sets in.”