Piracy at sea is at its lowest level in six years, with 264 attacks recorded, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
The drop in worldwide piracy attacks has greatly been due to the dramatic drop of incidents recorded in waters off Somalia. In 2013, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported fifteen incidents off Somalia. According to its records, this is down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011. The increase of armed guards on vessels, coupled with international navy patrols and the “stabilizing influence” of Somalia’s government have aided in deterring pirate. According to Pottengal Mukundan, IMB’s director, “the single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” adding that “it is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could re-kindle pirate activity.”
The IMB’s annual global piracy report has indicated that more than 300 people were taken hostage at sea in 2013 and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives.
Examining global piracy figures, Indonesia witnessed the most pirate attacks last year, accounting for more than 50 of all reported incidents. However it must be noted that attacks in waters of Indonesia were “low-level opportunistic thefts, not to be compared with the more serious incidents off Africa.” Piracy off West Africa made up 19% of attacks worldwide in 2013. According to the IMB report, Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the region’s 51 attacks. These attacks were “particularly violent,” with one crew member killed, and thirty-six people kidnapped and held onshore for ransom.
In November 2013, a United Nations and World Bank report indicated that pirates operating off the Horn of Africa, which are some of the world’s busiest shipping and humanitarian aid routes, had netted more than US $400 million (£251 million) in ransom money between 2005 and 2012.
Meanwhile in neighboring Kenya, the trial of four men charged over the Westgate shopping centre siege began in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The four suspected foreigners have denied the charges of aiding a “terrorist group,” and of being in Kenya illegally. However none of the men – named as Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adnan Ibrahim, and Hussein Hassan – have been accused of being the gunmen who carried out the attack. While their nationalities have not been disclosed, they are said to be ethnic Somalis.
Police officials in Kenya have also indicated that the four accused had sheltered the attackers in their homes in Eastleigh a Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi, and that they were in contact with the gunmen four days prior to the siege being carried out.
During the first day of the trial, the court heard testimony from security guards who saw what happened when the gunmen launched the attack in September 2013, killing at least sixty-seven people. During his testimony, guard Stephen Juma told the court that he had been directing traffic outside the upmarket shopping centre when a car pulled up and three men jumped out. According to Mr Juma, one of them immediately shot dead a shopper, adding that “I began to hear gunshots, I made a radio call for help while running to the main entrance.” Mr Juma further noted that he could not identify any of the gunmen as their heads and faces had been covered with black headscarves.
The four are the first to be charged over the attack, which was the worst in Kenya since 224 people were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy. Reports have indicated that around forty witnesses are expected to give evidence at the trial, which is likely to last around a week.
Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab confirmed days after the siege at they were behind the attack, indicating that one of its suicide brigades carried out the siege. Although al-Shabaab is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia, the militant group has on numerous occasions carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya in a bid to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia to bolster the UN-backed central government.
Heads of states in West Africa have called for the deployment of an international naval force that will aid in curbing the growing threat of piracy off the Gulf of Guinea. There are currently more pirate attacks occurring off the coast of West Africa than in the waters off Somalia, which used to be a piracy hotspot. Patrols by foreign warships, as part of the European Union’s and Nato’s anti-piracy operations, have reduced attacks by Somali pirates, with the last successful vessel hijacking occurring thirteen months ago. Piracy off Somalia decreased by 78% in 2012 when compared with 2011. With Somali piracy significantly on the decline, mainly due to increased patrolling of the waters coupled with the presence of security teams on board vessels transiting through the region and better practices by the ship’s captains and crew, leaders in West African states are increasingly looking into the possibilities of deploying international navies in order to manage the issue.
Speaking at a meeting of West and Central African leaders in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde, the Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara highlighted that the growing threat from piracy in the region resulted in a need for the issue to be tackled with “firmness.” He further indicated that “I urge the international community to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy.” Cameroon’s President Paul Biya also noted that it was vital to respond to the threat and to protect shipping routes and the economic interests of the region.
According to statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), for the first time, more pirate attacks were reported in the Gulf of Guinea than off the coast of Somalia, in which about 960 sailors were attacked in West Africa in 2012, compared with 851 that occurred in the waters off Somalia. However while attack numbers have sharply decreased in Somalia, at least 78 hostages are still being held captive by Somali pirates. Some of them have been held for long periods of time. A number of security sources have indicated that waters off the coast of Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil producer, have the highest risk of pirate activity in the region.
Although pirates in West Africa typically only steal fuel cargo and the crew members’ possessions, attacks in the region have been known to be extremely violent. IMB has reported that five of the 206 hostages kidnapped last year off vessels transiting through Western Africa have been killed. In sharp contrast, pirates in Somalia typically seize a vessel and its crew members and hold them until a hefty ransom is paid.
Between 0400 – 0500 local time yesterday (10th June, 2013), unknown individuals successfully boarded a bulk carrier waiting for loading in Taboneo Anchorage, Indonesia. While on board, they remained undetected and succeeded in stealing stores from the ship and escaping.
This is the fourth similar occurrence in a little over a week throughout Indonesia, with two incidents taking place at Belawan anchorage on the 3rd and 8th of June and one at Muara Jawa anchorage also on the 3rd. While yesterday’s robbery was successful, the other three in the past week were foiled by the alertness of the ship’s duty crew.
These incidents demonstrate some common characteristics. The robbers used small boats to approach the ships in harbour, and then used either the anchor chain or ropes to board the vessel, with the apparent aim in all incidents of gaining access to the ship’s stores. Reports suggest that the individuals were usually also armed with knives or machetes, though in all of these incidents they fled when confronted by alert crew. While the authorities were notified, as of writing no individuals have been arrested in connection with these incidents.
Poor security at Indonesian ports has remained a recurring cause for concern in recent years. From 2004 onwards many Indonesian ports were placed on the U.S Coast Guard’s Port Security Advisory list as a result of failures in security practices, a ban only lifted in December last year following some American investment and training. However, despite these nominal improvements it is worth noting that the US Coast Guard’s primary concern was with poor counter-terrorist performance, not with piracy or armed robbery prevention.
In fact, reporting suggests there is a growing problem with security in Indonesian anchorages. The International Maritime Bureau strongly criticised Indonesia’s performance at the end of last year after a reported 81 occurrences of robbery – the highest following year on year increases since 2009. So far in 2013, reporting from numerous sources suggests the trend will continue to increase this year as well. Indeed, due to the problem of significant underreporting, the actual number of incidents is almost certainly much higher that officially recorded.
The reduction in piracy in South East Asia, particularly the Straits of Malacca, following extreme highs in 2003 is touted as a successful example of regional cooperation. However evidence shows that the problem of piracy throughout the region is now on the rise again and that many gains may be on the verge of reversal. In particular, the Indonesian National Security Sea Coordination Board has reportedly dismissed the IMB criticism of its performance against armed robbery in ports and argued the incidents are not a serious concern despite the dramatic increase in incidents.
Opportunistic armed robbery targeting vessels in Indonesian anchorages is now a problem that is steadily on the increase. Small groups of robbers seek to steal stores or cargo and are normally prevented by the actions of alert crew instead of port security authorities. These individuals are often armed, typically with knives and machetes but also reportedly with firearms in some past incidents. While they normally flee when confronted, some past incidents have involved hostage taking and violence.
Belawan port in particular is prone to these incidents, accounting for over an eighth of the total in 2012 and a similar level so far this year. Nevertheless, vessels in all anchorages throughout Indonesia should remain aware of the high levels of armed robbery against anchored ships and the need for vigilant security.
Asia – Pacific Summary
Incidents Occurring in April, 2013
There were 18 reported incidents in the Asia- Pacific region in the month of April, 2013. All of these occurred in the South East Asian region, with no incidents in North East Asia or the Pacific reported.
The most notable incidents appear to be the boarding of HUB 21 on the 24th of April, which involved violence directed at crewmembers, and the sighting of the ENG TOU 266 on the 22nd April, a stolen barge that is yet to have been recovered.
Most incidents involved armed robbery targeting ships anchored in ports throughout the SE Asian region, particularly in Indonesia.
Incident Occurrences by Country
30th April, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, robbed during customs operations.
29th April, Indonesia – CREST 2821 boarded 3.2 NM northwest of Pulau Batam, robbed.
27th April, Indonesia – FAIRCHAM MAVERICK boarded at Belawan port, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – NADIYA MELISENDE boarded 16 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – HUB 21 boarded 53 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. 15 pirates in 3 speedboats boarded vessel armed with knives and guns, took nine crew members hostage and assaulted some, before stealing cash and properties.
22nd April, Malaysia – ENG TOU 266 observed off Tanjung Ayam. This stolen barge was being towed by an unidentified tug, and has yet to be recovered.
23rd April, Indonesia – AD PHEONIX boarded 15 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. Armed pirates boarded and robbed vessel.
19th April, Indonesia – SINGAPORE RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage. Armed robbers tied up crewmember at knifepoint, and escaped with stolen property.
17th April, Vietnam – IVS MAGPIE boarded at Cam Pha anchorage, attempted robbery.
13th April, Indonesia – DENSA JAGUAR boarded at Surabaya Port, attempted armed robbery.
9th April, Vietnam – WESTGATE boarded at Ho Chi Min Port, robbed.
6th April, Indonesia – MAERSK BERING boarded at Belawan port, robbed. Robbers later contacted shipping agent offering to sell back stolen items.
5th April, India – NEW CENTURY attempted boarding at Visakhapatnam Anchorage.
4th April, Indonesia – GARDEN CITY RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage, robbed.
3rd April, Indonesia – IVER EXACT attempted boarding at Dumai Anchorage.
3rd April, Indonesia – SHER E PUNJAB boarded at Adang Bay Anchorage, armed robbers took crewmembers hostage and stole stores.
2nd April, Vietnam – WEHR BLANKESE boarded at Ho Chi Min port, robbed.
1st April, Bangladesh – CRANE boarded at Chittagong anchorage, armed robbers fled before stealing anything.
1st April, Indian Ocean – CONDOR observed suspicious activity in form of a group of boats, sent crew to citadel and took evasive action. This incident is not included in above figures.