No let up on piracy off Somali coast as incidents double

The number of piracy incidents doubled off the coast of Somalia in 2017 compared to 2016, a freshly released annual report showed, an indication that criminal groups in Somalia still posed a threat to users of the key sea route.

The State of Piracy report released by One Earth Future (OEF)’s Oceans beyond Piracy programme showed there were 54 incidents of piracy off the Somali Coast in 2017, up from 27 the previous year. Some 16 piracy incidents were recorded off the East Africa shores in 2015.

The annual report analyses the human and economic impacts of maritime piracy and robbery at sea in the Western Indian Ocean Region, the Gulf of Guinea, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Pirate activity in 2017 clearly demonstrates that pirate groups retain their ability to organise and implement attacks against ships transiting the region,” says Maisie Pigeon, the report’s lead author.

Incidents in this maritime space have posed an additional threat to shipping transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

“There are now a wide range of threats to shipping near the Horn of Africa that have been complicated by the conflict and instability in Yemen,” says Phil Belcher, marine director of INTERTANKO. “We are advising our members to consider a more comprehensive security assessment to take into account other threats beyond traditional piracy emanating from the regional conflict in Yemen.”

At the height of the piracy crisis in 2011, there were 237 attacks and the annual cost of piracy was estimated to be up to $8bn.

The menace has also led to increased operational costs due to higher insurance premiums and use of longer alternative routes round the Cape as well as hiring special security personnel to escort vessels through the Gulf of Aden and other measures such as watchtowers and razor wire.

Prices of basic industrial and household items have also risen sharply after shipping lines passed on the additional costs to consumers down the supply chain.

A deployment of global naval forces around the Gulf of Aden has helped lower the number of piracy attacks in recent years. International navies have stepped up pre-emptive action against pirates, including strikes on their bases on the Somali coast.

And even as piracy off Somalia coast remained a concern, the way off Guinea in West Africa has also become a nightmare for shippers.

The report showed that piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea continue at persistently high levels. In 2017, 1726 seafarers were impacted in a total of 97 incidents, despite the increased efforts of regional states and contracted maritime security providers.

The report shows a $13.2 million increase on spending by regional states on law enforcement and naval patrols, and that there has been a continued proliferation of contracted maritime security schemes. A South Korean vessel Munmu the Great was re-deployed to the Gulf of Guinea in response to the kidnapping of 3 South Korean fishermen in March.

“Kidnap-for-ransom continues to plague the region, which is a trend that has unfortunately continued from 2016” says Pigeon. The report found that 100 crew members were taken hostage in 2016.

Maritime crime in Latin America and the Caribbean is also on the rise.

“We have observed a significant increase in violent incidents and anchorage crime, particularly in the anchorages of Venezuela and the recent violent incidents off Surinam in the first part of this year,” says Pigeon.

The piracy situation in Asia improved considerably in 2017, with overall incidents down by over 20 per cent from 2016. Most encouraging was that kidnap-for-ransom attacks decreased from 22 in 2016 to just four in 2017.

“We believe that much of the credit for this progress is due to the trilateral patrols between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia,” says Gregory Clough, Ocean Beyond Piracy’s acting director.

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