by Despina Kalfa.
After four (4) piracy attacks* in just three weeks and after approximately a five-year hiatus, observers now warn that East Africa piracy is making a comeback.
More particularly, it has been reported that at least eight (8) Pirate Groups are in the region as confirmed by the former director of intelligence in Somalia’s Puntland region, Mr. Abdi Hassan Hussein, who has stated in VOA Somalia that “there are more than eight groups who want to engage piracy activities, some of them already went into the sea, some are in preparation and some have already carried out attacks.”
Moreover, Mr. John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy, told Reuters that “this confirms that the pirates still have the ability to go to sea and take vessels, and the international shipping industry need to take additional precautions” when he was asked to comment on the recent hijackings.
Attacks in the region reached a peak in 2011 with 237 incidents, but the combination of international Naval patrols, implementation of BMP4 practices and employment of armed security personnel successfully combated the threat after 2012, whereas in 2016 the IMB recorded only 2 pirate attacks near Somalia, neither of which resulted in a hijacking.
The reasons why Somali Piracy appears to have reemerged are not clear but some of the causes listed by analysts include frustration rising among local fishermen – including former pirates- in regards to illegal foreign fishing operations, toxic waste dumping off the coast, endemic poverty, scarcity, corruption, a surge of smuggled weapons and the influence of the Islamic State’s ideology.
For academics, piracy experts, and naval practitioners the hijackings didn’t come as a surprise, as they have repeatedly alerted the international community and the shipping industry about the risk that Somali pirates will go back to their hostage and ransom routine if the opportunity presents itself.
All in all, at the moment these are mere indications of a possibly imminent large-scale return to piracy off the Somali coast, and not certainty. However, there’s no ruling out the possibility of more frequent attacks in the future with the real danger being that, should piracy gain a footing again, the pirates will have considerable skill and expertise to draw on.
It goes without saying that all vessels in the area should review their security preparations in line with the ISPS code and BMP4 measures.
On a final note, please refer to the very interesting table below indicating key piracy threat areas in East Africa region.
* On 13/3/17 13 pirates hijacked the Sri Lankan-flagged oil tanker Aris 13. It was taken to the coast of Alula town in Puntland but released three days later, after regional Somali forces threatened force. No ransom was paid although local officials said the pirates were given immunity from prosecution.
On 24/3/17 pirates seized the m/v Casayr, a Somali fishing boat, to use as a “mother ship” to attack other ships at sea. Ten Yemeni crew aboard the boat were reportedly dumped on shore.
On 3/4/17 pirates hijacked a Pakistani boat, Salama 1, soon after seizing an Indian-owned boat, MSV Al Kausar.
The Al Kausar, with 11 crew members, is now anchored off the nearby village of El Hur. The Salama 1 was reportedly headed to the same area with an unknown number of crew.