Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pirates Attacks On Freight Vessels Continue But Indians Strike Back

Another Oil Tanker Taken But 43 Pirates Reported Captured - What Happens Next?
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – INDIA – Another vessel was seized today approximately 670 nautical miles East of Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean. The MV Savina Caylyn, an Italian oil tanker of 104,000dwt owned and operated by Dolphin Tankers, was seized by five men firing rocket propelled grenades and small arms from a small skiff. There is no news at present of the fate of the seven Italian and seventeen Indian, crew. This continues this year's worrying trend for unseasonal attacks upon container ships and bulk vessels.

At the same time local press are jubilantly reporting that Indian naval forces have captured a total of forty three pirates in attacks on fishing vessels which were seized previously. Reports say four fishing vessels were involved and so far two have been recovered and the navy is searching for the remaining two which are being used by the hijackers. Forty four fishermen are reported rescued but apparently five died whilst in pirate hands and two more perished during the rescue, it appears the boats were seized as long ago as last April.

The fishing vessels were all from the Prantalay fleet owned by P T Interfishery Limited of Thailand who lease the vessels to others including Thai and Mynamar companies and the pirates and crew were interned in police custody in Mumbai with the alleged pirates being incarcerated in local gaols to await charges. The difficulties of who prosecutes, and where, we have written on at length several times before.

It may be that the international community may now feel stronger actions should be endorsed to deal with the growing scourge of piracy in the region. The most worrying development is that the pirate gangs seem to be getting better at what they do. Capturing a large merchant vessel is hard enough but holding it against a rescue attempt using a limited number of suitable anchorages, feeding the crew whilst negotiating a ransom presents its own logistical challenges.

Formerly there appeared to be a finite limit to the amount of vessels the pirates could capture and control but their new military style tactics must surely elicit a harsher response from overseas authorities. Previously the small skiffs and low numbers of personnel utilised meant the monsoon restricted hijacking to seasonal, close to the coast operations.

Delineating a narrow International Recommended Transit Corridor (MSC-HOA)where a multinational naval force could concentrate their vessels has meant a safer passage for those within it, only seven of the fifty or so successful hijacks in 2010 have occurred within IRTC boundaries, but the pirates now appear more competent and have created an altogether more flexible and organised infrastructure for their crimes, attracting more and better equipped crews who first use their skiffs typically to seize fishing boats capable of travelling further and in heavier seas. Hostage crews are then ‘persuaded’ to assist in the venture, often in fear of their lives.

These captive vessels become mother ships, sometimes using the now towed skiffs as assault craft on large container ships or bulk carriers and tankers but often the miscreants simply upsize, first taking slow moving medium sized freighters which can stay at sea as long as provisions last before being used to launch attacks. Like the buccaneers of old the pirates cruise the ocean, far from both land and the reach of the warships deployed to take them on.

Rarely are the villains captured and prosecuted, when spotted they simply heave all signs of piracy into the ocean, munitions, boarding ladders, grapnels, all consigned to the sea leaving no physical evidence of their intent. As the pirate tactics, staff levels and equipment improve so their range extends further into the open sea. Successful attacks have occurred almost 2,000 miles to the east of Somalia off the Indian coast and similarly south in distant Madagascan waters.

It is inevitable that the richer nations and freighters from the larger international fleets will invest more in security, safe citadels and sophisticated deterrents whilst poorer owners from smaller countries may well resort to violent tactics of their own to deter raiders. What is certain however is that as long as poverty remains the normal state in this region of East Africa piracy will continue to be a growth industry.

Photo:- MV Savina Caylyn courtesy Dolphin Tankers