Even with a couple of months remaining before the final analysis of the patterns of piracy for 2013 can be finally clarified, some emerging trends are very clear. Dave Sloggett reports
The problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia has been temporarily solved by a combination of measures. However, that does not mean that Somali piracy can be consigned to history, as too many factors that encouraged its initial development remain in place. Any one of a relatively small number of catalysts could see the Somali pirates return to their attacks.
One of these might be a steady erosion of the numbers of maritime security teams deployed on vessels operating in the area. It is believed that just below 40% of the vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden carry armed security teams. These teams have been called into action four times in 2013, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). That still means that more than 1,000 vessels are transiting the area relying on taking other measures to avoid being boarded and hijacked. If Somali pirates were to succeed in capturing a vessel it is possible that with such lucrative returns on offer others who have given up the business of piracy may be tempted to return.
Another catalyst could be the gradual withdrawal of naval forces operating in the region. With defence budgets across the world under pressure the decision about whether to continue the current deployment, which is due towards the end of 2014, is important. In many ports along the Somali coastline there will be people watching on with more than a passing interest as to the outcome.
Away from Somalia, it is the coastline of Indonesia that has experienced the largest number of piracy attacks and robberies. One third of the total reports received by the IMB originate from various anchorages in Indonesia. Five of the eight locations where the majority of the attacks occur are also home to naval assets. Indonesia’s coastguard is yet to be established, so it is the naval forces that bear the responsibility for protecting the anchorages which are distributed across the country.
Analysis of the IMB reports shows that the majority of attacks around Indonesia occur at night time, specifically between the hours of 02.00 and 05.00. Up until the early part of November 2013, only seven attacks had occurred during daylight hours, less than 10% of the total reported. Another factor concerns the numbers of pirates that are reported to be involved in incidents notified to the IMB. Away from Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea, that average is four pirates per attack.
While the situation off Somalia has improved, in the Gulf of Guinea it has markedly deteriorated. Armed security teams protecting vessels transiting the area have been in action on seven reported occasions. Pirates operating off the Gulf of Guinea are developing a fearsome reputation for violence and kidnapping key crew members. The average number of pirates involved in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is 10 per incident, more than twice the figure elsewhere. It shows how pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea have a very different modus operandi. They need extra hands to seize the vessel, hold it for a few days and remove key members of the crew ashore, before starting to negotiate for their release.
Looking ahead to 2014, there are reasons for optimism as well as some pessimism when it comes to predicting the emerging patterns of piracy. For Indonesia the key is to quickly turn discussions over the development of a dedicated coastguard into reality, and then to provide it with the capability to shine a light onto the night-time robberies that take place in the anchorages.
However, off the Gulf of Guinea any immediate downturn in levels of piracy seems unlikely, despite the introduction of new maritime security capabilities. Where security in anchorages may improve in 2014, pirates will still use the wider freedom of non-territorial waters to seek out their prey. Meanwhile, off the coast of Somalia it is frankly anyone’s guess as to what happens next, just one incident may provide the impetus required for the whole problem to reignite.
‘Maritime piracy forecast for 2014’: the full version of this article appears in IHS Maritime’s Safety at Sea magazine, January 2014 issue, under the title ‘New year, old piracy – what can we expect in 2014?’ For more IHS Maritime content visit http://www.ihsmaritime360.com