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Icon representing Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19
Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19

November 18th 2019
Icon representing CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus
CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus

October 2nd 2019
Icon representing CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker
CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker

July 20th 2019
 
 
 

Piracy Returns to Somalia

 
April 7th 2017
The saying, “One swallow does not make a summer” can be equally applied to Somalia: One hijacking doesn’t make a return to piracy. Four hijackings in a short time period, however, are a pretty clear indicator that the shipping industry needs to lift its head and pay closer attention.

 

While the hijacking of the MT Aris 13 on March 13th was widely reported as an internal Somali affair with no ransom paid, our sources in the region begged to differ. As members will be aware, I received a constant stream of intelligence during that hijacking incident which CSO Alliance shared in its entirety with EUNAVFOR as it came in. Those same regional sources have done their best to keep track of the latest incidents and again, anything received is sent to the European Naval Force HQ.

 

The two most recent hijackings (the Al Kausar and Salama 1) occurred within 24 hours of one another and, while the vessels are dhows rather than merchant ships, at least one (the Al Kausar with 11 Indian crew) has now issued a ransom demand. That suggests that pirates are once again testing their traditional business model to see if shipping companies will pay up.

 

No one should really be surprised at the resurgence in piracy off Somalia. The drivers are all still in place and, if anything, the situation has made it almost inevitable. Economic opportunities in Somalia remain few and far between and although the country has a new government, it is heavily reliant on foreign investment. That investment is put off by the security challenges facing the country from al Qaeda-linked terror group, Al Shabaab and the presence of Daesh/ISIS in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, traditionally the home of many pirate gangs. The naval drawdown and end of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield left a gap in an already massive oceanic policing area and the perception that piracy had left the region thanks to the media allowed the shipping industry to become somewhat complacent to the threat.

 

We have anecdotal reports that fewer vessels register with UKMTO/MSCHOA prior to entering the Indian Ocean High Risk Area (itself reduced in December 2016 following a reduction in reported incidents off India’s West coast), and a drop in the number of ships transiting with armed security teams.

 

Combine these factors with a lack of regional security, famine, drought and cholera – all things Somalis are currently suffering – and you have a recipe for piracy.

 

The question is, how alarmed should the international shipping industry be and what measures can it put in place to protect ships, cargo and crew?

 

Fortunately, that question was answered in 2012 and the response today is the same as it was then. Ensuring all BMP4 measures are enforced and that vessels register with UKMTO so that, should the worst happen, the international naval forces can be made aware as soon as possible. Transiting 200nm off the coast of Somalia is highly advised and, where practical, CSOs should consider the use of an armed security team as their final deterrent.

 

So far, pirates have yet to attack a large merchant vessel. The news that some former pirate commanders are dusting off their AK-47s (Isse Yuluh, the pirate leader behind the MT Smyrni and Royal Grace hijackings in 2012 has reportedly returned on the scene) does not reassure analysts.

 

However, the fact remains that we have yet to witness an attack against an MV, and that’s a very important caveat. Should Somali pirates venture further into the Indian Ocean or Gulf and start attacking large, commercial ships again, then we can absolutely say that piracy has returned to the region. Until then, the shipping industry needs to return to measures it adopted from 2012 onwards and make sure that the risk versus the reward remains firmly in favour of the shipping industry.