On 27 November 2016, reports emerged of suspicious activity involving MV Saronic Breeze in position 05°09’00”N – 002°37’22”E (Cotonou outer roads).
The vessel had been travelling south however it changed direction to head back into port and now has been drifting in position 04°41’50”N – 003°30’15”E since 282000ZNOV16. The owner of the vessel received the SSAS and tried to contact the vessel however no response was received. Maritime officials strongly believe that the vessel is under piracy attack and that pirates have taken control of it. Port control has been informed about the incident however no information has been received.
On 23 November 2016, NATO announced that it has ended Operation Ocean Shield after a sharp decline in attacks by Somali pirates. While there has been no vessel hijacked off Somalia since May 2012, the threat of piracy remains high despite no major incidents reported. This is due to the fact that pirate action group’s (PAGs) operating in the region continue to maintain the capability and drive to launch attacks in a bid to successfully hijack a merchant vessel.
MS Risk advises all vessels transiting this region to remain aware that while NATO has ended its operations in the area, the threat remains high and continued vigilance and compliance with BMP4 procedures is necessary. The threat remains high in waters off the southern Red Sea/Bab el Mandeb, Gulf of Aden – including Yemen and the northern Somali Coast – Arabian Sea/Off Oman, the Gulf of Oman and off the eastern and southern Somali coast. In the past, incidents of vessels being attacked have been recorded in waters off Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Tanzania, as well as in the Indian Ocean and off the western and southern coasts of India and western Maldives. We advise that all vessels continue to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch. We further remind all Masters that fishermen operating in this region may try to protect their nets by attempting to aggressively approach merchant ships. Some fishermen may be armed and should no be confused with pirates.
MS Risk further advise merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden to also operate under a heightened state of alert due to increasing tensions in the region, which can escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to ships transiting this area. We advise that all vessels transiting this region should report any incidents or suspicious activity immediately. The threat may come from a number of different sources including missiles, projectiles or waterborne improvised explosive devices. Houthi rebels have claimed responsibly for the 1 October 2016 attack on a UAE vessel.
All ships and patrol aircraft under NATO Operation Ocean Shield have now left the area off the Horn of Africa. The Royal Danish Air Force carried out the last Indian Ocean surveillance missions for NATO, with the commander of the Danish air force detachment disclosing that NATO can resume its anti-piracy efforts at any time – whether in the Somali basin or the Atlantic Ocean.
Ships and patrol aircraft operating under the mission had been patrolling waters in this region since 2009 as part of a broader international effort to crackdown on Somali-based pirates who were impacting world shipping. The Ocean Shield operation, as well as European Union (EU) counter-piracy mission, have significantly reduced attacks, with the last reported vessel hijacking off Somalia occurring in May 2012 – down from more than thirty ships at the peak in 2010 – 2011.
NATO is now shifting its resources towards deterring Russia in the Black Sea and people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, NATO broadened its operations in the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to help the EU stop criminals trafficking refugees from North Africa.
According to a Somali official and a maritime expert, Somali pirates have hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel with fifteen crew members on board. The hijacking comes midst warnings that piracy in the Indian Ocean region may be making a comeback.
Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, director of the anti-piracy and seaport ministry in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia, has disclosed that “pirates hijacked an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel with its 15 crew from near Eyl,” a city located in northern Somalia. John Steed, East African region manager for Oceans Beyond Piracy, has also confirmed the hijacking, adding that the vessel is called Muhammidi.
While there are still occasional cases of sea attacks, piracy near Somalia’s coast has largely subsided in the past three years. This is mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details coupled with the presence of international warships.
A Singapore-registered tanker sailing in Malaysian waters has been boarded by pirates and robbed of its marine fuel, Malaysian coast guard officials have confirmed. Port authorities lost contact with the ship late on 8 August, several hours after it had set sail from the Indonesian city of Tanjung Pinang. The ship, which was en route to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, was carrying a crew of ten and 3,500 tonnes of marine fuel when it was attacked. Two of the crew members sustained injuries after the vessel was boarded and they have since been hospitalised.
According to information from the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB), over the past six months pirate attacks in Southeast Asia are the highest that they have been in twelve years. By contrast, there have been no reported incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia, or in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea or in the Gulf of Aden. If this trend continues, 2015 could be the first year since 2006 that Somali pirates were prevented from claiming any prizes.
Worldwide, the IMB reported a total of 134 pirate attacks from January to June this year, an increase of 18 attacks over the same period last year but still below 2011’s record breaking 266. It is not, however, the relative increase in the frequency of attacks that is the most striking feature of the IMB data – it is the overall change in their geographic distribution. Indonesia, for instance, recorded 54 attacks over the reporting period, the highest number since 2010, while Vietnam and Bangladesh suffered 13 and 11 respectively. The Strait of Malacca, a notorious hotspot for piracy, has also seen an uptick in pirate activity.
Various factors have been attributed to the decline in Somali piracy – amongst them the increase in naval patrols and the “target hardening” efforts of shipowners”, who have gone to considerable lengths to make their vessels harder to board, including the use of armed guards. Nevertheless, shipowners’ have been warned against becoming complacent. While it is certainly unusual for there to have been no incidents of piracy reported over the first six months of the year, Michael Howlett, deputy director of the IMB said that the threat had not vanished. “We still advise masters to be aware. [The pirates] still have the capacity [to launch attacks]. It only takes one successful attack for this business model to be relaunched,” he said.
According to the latest data released by the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre on Wednesday, pirates operating in Southeast Asia continue to hijack a coastal tanker on average once every two weeks in a bid to steal their cargo fuel.
Between January and June of this year, a total of 134 incidents of piracy and armed robbery globally were reported to the centre, an increase from the 116 that were reported during the same period last year. So far this year, 250 crewmembers have been taken hostage, with one fatality and nine injuries. Meanwhile eleven of the 13 hijackings that have been reported in the first half of this year occurred in waters in Southeast Asia. According to IMB director Pottengal Mukundan, “the serious attacks are the hijackings of the tankers in Southeast Asia and this year there has been a higher number in the first two quarters of this year than in the first two quarters of 2014.”
The IMB has reported that overall, attacks in Southeast Asia are greater in number than those of all the other regions combined. Furthermore, one-third of all incidents in that region occurred off the coast of Indonesia, however the IMB has noted that “the majority of these related to low-level opportunistic theft from vessels.” According to IMB figures, in the first half of 2015, there were 54 actual or attempted attacks that occurred in or near Indonesian waters, compared to 47 that were reported during the same period last year. Waters off Vietnam also saw an increase in pirate activity. In the first half of last year, there was only one incident reported in the area, however this year, there have already been 11 incidents reported. The IMB also reported a significant increase in armed robber attacks on vessels in Bangladesh, particularly in Chittagong. In the second quarter of this year, there were 10 incidents reported compared to only one that was reported in the first three months of 2015.