Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pirate Attacks Down but Container and Other Merchant Ships Urged to Remain Vigilant

Tankers Are the Target of Choice for the New-Wave of Hijackers
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH EAST ASIA – WEST AFRICA – Gone, thankfully, are the recent times when every single day seemed to bring news of another pirate attack, with fishing vessels to container ships constantly being harassed and hijacked and their crews captured before being offered for ransom. The hot spot initially was the Somali coastline and later the wider Indian Ocean but, thanks to sterling work by forces such as EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta and Combined Task Force 151, coupled with armed security personnel aboard cargo carriers and merchant vessels, and accompanying convoys, that particular threat has been almost eliminated.

Unfortunately the pirate presence in other regions remains undiminished as this week’s latest report from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) clearly shows. One of the latest trends is for attacks on small coastal tankers in South East Asian waters which are currently averaging two a month. According to the report, five small tankers were hijacked in South East Asian waters in the second quarter of 2015 alone, bringing the total number of vessels hijacked globally in 2015 to 13.

The IMB report does however stress that the same tactics which first reduced the Somali attacks are working here, with enhanced cooperation between regional authorities and the early detection of the pirates’ attack skiffs leading them to abort. IMB highlighted the tracking and arrest off Vietnam of an eight-man Indonesian gang responsible for the hijacking of a Malaysian tanker last month and also praised the Malaysian authorities for the June conviction of nine Indonesian pirates, apprehended after the January hijacking of an anchored product tanker off Johor. Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB said:

“Information sharing and coordinated action between concerned coastal states is crucial in responding to this threat. We commend the effort that caught one gang and also the hefty custodial sentences imposed on another which will help deter further incidents.”

The latest global report reveals that a total of 134 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in the first six months of 2015; an increase on the 116 reports for the corresponding period in 2014. Pirates managed to board 106 vessels and were responsible for 13 hijackings and 15 attempted attacks worldwide. So far in 2015, 250 crew members have been taken hostage, 14 assaulted, 10 kidnapped, nine injured and one killed.

Over one third of attacks took place of the Indonesian coast, mostly low level, opportunistic crimes with similar offences causing a spike in of incidents off Bangladesh and Chittagong in particular, with 10 reports made in the second quarter of 2015 compared with only one in the first quarter. Nigeria, which we have covered in some detail previously, certainly presents a different face to many other regions, with some attackers viewed as freedom fighters defending against the corruption which has seen the ruination of habitats and the displacement of populations by the oil industry.

Here there have been 11 reported incidents in the first half of 2015 though no incidents were reported in the month of June. However, 10 crew kidnappings in three separate events were reported in and around Nigerian waters. On the opposite coast Somali waters remain quiet although vessels are urged to maintain Best Management Practices when transiting the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Photo: A boarding party from Combined Task Force 151 goes to work.