Despite increased attention from governments, global organizations and the maritime sector, piracy continues to be a major problem.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, spoke earlier this year at the launch of the World Maritime Day, where the theme for 2011 was: ‘Piracy: Orchestrating the Response’1. Ki-moon said:
“Piracy seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it… Despite the deployment of signifi cant naval assets to the region, the number of hijackings and victims has risen significantly. more needs to be done.”
The nature of the problem
The statistics reveal the scale of the problem. More people were
taken hostage at sea in 2010 than in any year on record, according to the latest global piracy report from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB). Pirates captured 1,181 seafarers and killed eight. A total of 53 ships were hijacked.
The number of pirate attacks against ships has risen every year for the last four years, the IMB revealed. Ships reported 445 attacks in 2010, up 10% from 2009. While 188 crew members were taken hostage in 2006, 1,050 were taken in 2009 and 1,181 in 2010.
According to the IMB, hijackings off the coast of Somalia accounted for 92% of all ship seizures last year with 49 vessels hijacked and 1,016 crew members taken hostage. A total of 28 vessels and 638 hostages were still being held for ransom by Somali pirates as of 31 December 2010.
Piracy hits all-time high
Piracy at sea hit an all-time high in the fi rst three months of 2011, with 142 attacks worldwide, according to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report. The increase was driven by a surge in piracy off the coast of Somalia, where 97 attacks were recorded in the first quarter of 2011, up from 35 in the same period last year.
Worldwide in the fi rst quarter of 2011, 18 vessels were hijacked,
344 crew members were taken hostage, and six were kidnapped.
A further 45 vessels were boarded, and 45 more reported being
fired upon. In the fi rst three months of 2011, pirates killed seven
crew members and injured 34.
Of the 18 ships hijacked worldwide in the fi rst three months of the year, 15 were captured off the east coast of Somalia, in and around the Arabian Sea and one in the Gulf of Aden. IMB fi gures showed that Somali pirates were holding captive 596 crew members on 28 ships as at the end of March 2011.
Nine incidents were reported off Malaysia in the fi rst quarter of 2011, with five incidents recorded for nigeria.
Somalia – no signs of improvement
According to specialist intelligence company exclusive Analysis, there has been no improvement in the number of hijacked vessels being taken by Somali pirates: ‘The shore situation in Somalia has made little difference to the ability of pirates to carry out their work with impunity. The number of ships held has increased dramatically in the last year – they are also being kept for longer before ransoms are paid.’
The company said that the last year has seen attacks across the whole Somali Basin and Arabian Sea but concentrating in the Arabian Sea for the last three months. “We expect to see more attacks and hijacks off Tanzania and Kenya in the coming months with some activity into the Mozambique Channel,” it adds.
Method of attack
There has been little change in the method of piracy attack, using a mother ship as a base and then sending out fast skiffs with fi ve or six pirates armed with AK-47, rocket propelled grenades and long ladders for scaling the ship’s side.
According to exclusive Analysis, the use of mother ships is not new, but the size and quantity has increased – they give range and sustainability to the pirates for some weeks and the ability to carry many pirates in order to carry out multiple attacks. exclusive Analysis has seen up to 60 on one mother ship.
Ships held for longer
The average length of time that ships are held for has been steadily increasing over the last year – around 120 days at the moment, some longer, some shorter – depending on the owner’s response to the ransom demands, says exclusive Analysis. On the issue of the pirates’ attitude to cargo, exclusive Analysis says they have seen little evidence of cargo being used, looted or transshipped in any signifi cant quantities: ‘The bulker, tankers and container vessels cannot have their cargo removed. The pirates have no ports or capability to do so. normally the cargo will be part of the deal – in most instances it can’t be moved anyway, although perishable goods will be lost.’
What are the most successful, cost-effective defensive measures that can be taken by ship owners to deter attacks? exclusive Analysis lists them in order of success:
- Armed guards
- A ship that can do more than 20 knots
- Razor wire
- An alert crew
According to exclusive Analysis, having armed guards on vessels
undoubtedly deters hijackers. Indeed, no ships with armed guards
have been captured. As to the impact of naval forces and other
moves by the international community, exclusive Analysis says that they are able to keep a steady state: “Without them the picture would be considerably worse. The ocean area is just too large to be everywhere at once. Too many ships that are hijacked have taken few measures to protect themselves adequately in the hope the navy will protect them. This is a dangerous attitude.”
When it comes to the payment of ransoms, there is a regulatory
element that has to be considered. Christopher Dunn, Managing
Partner, Waltons & Morse explains: “In the marine fi eld, and
particularly in the uK and the uS, the main regulatory issue is ransom payments to pirates, given that pirates are criminals and may be linked to terrorists, although the April 2010 uK House of Lords Select Committee Report ‘Operation Atlanta’ indicates that there is no evidence of such a link to Al shabab despite a confl ation in some quarters.”
According to Mr. Dunn, a specialist marine insurance practitioner, “of particular relevance are section 15 of the Terrorism Act 2000 inthe uK and President Obama’s executive Order Concerning
Somalia of 13 April 2010. The former makes it illegal to pay money, directly or indirectly, if it is known or reasonably suspected that it may be used for terrorism. The latter prevents
US persons, and the defi nition of a uS person is wide, from making payments to certain persons, essentially specified
terrorists and those determined to be engaged in acts threatening the stability of Somalia.”
He adds, “We find that it pays off to have a close liaison with
the relevant authorities involved in policing those provisions –
the Serious Organized Crime Agency in the uK, and the Offi ce
of Foreign Assets Control in the uS – when dealing with situations involving the payment of ransom to pirates, so as to ensure that the payments are duly authorized and legal.”
Tackling the root problem
In the longer term, any solution needs to move beyond deterrence efforts and tackle the issue in Somalia itself. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained: “We need to support alternative livelihoods and the rehabilitation of coastal fisheries. We need to develop Somali capacity to deal with piracy-related activities on land and in its territorial sea. This must be linked to the broader efforts to develop Somalia’s police and coast guard, as well as its justice sector, to ensure that persons suspected of acts of piracy are prosecuted.”
Of course, it is not just the seas around Somalia that are subject
to piracy. exclusive Analysis points to the west coast of Africa in
the area of nigeria and neighbouring countries, as well as Bangladesh, the South China Sea and Indonesia, and anchorages
There is some positive news, however, that highlights how
international efforts are beginning to successfully tackle the problem of piracy. The IMB said in its report that while attacks
off the coast of Somalia remain high, the number of incidents
in the Gulf of Aden reduced by more than half last year, with
53 attacks in 2010 down from 117 in 2009.