A number of incidents in recent weeks has underlined the fact that the threat from Somalian piracy is far from over. Over the course of the past month, there has been a rise in the number of attacks and suspicious approaches in the Gulf of Aden, Southern Red Sea and Bab-el Mandeb straight. “None of the incidents have resulted in ransom payments being made, although they underscore the continued vulnerability of vessels transiting the High Risk Area, particularly for those that fail to implement effective counter-piracy measures,” says Kateryna Yakunchenkova, General Manager of Dubai-based Al Safina Security (ALSS).
On 13th March 2017, Somali pirates hijacked the Aris 13, a Comoros-flagged oil tanker en route to Mogadishu from Djibouti, marking the first seizure of such a large commercial vessel since 2012. The Aris 13 reported that two skiffs had approached it with weapons sighted on one of the boats. The Aris 13 had been attempting to pass through the Socotra Gap, a route between Ethiopia and the island of Socotra in Yemen when it was boarded by the pirates. The route is often used by vessels traveling along the east coast of Africa as a shortcut to save time and money. The European Union Naval Force reported that pirates had demanded an undisclosed ransom for the vessel’s return. But it was later confirmed that the boat and its eight crew members had been released due to the efforts of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). The entire crew is reported unharmed.
Mrs. Yakunchenkova says, “We see ship owners have become less wary of piracy, and some have started using the riskier Socotra Gap route to save time and money. Today we can see the serious outcome from this approach.”
On March 31, the dhow Al Kausar and its cargo of rice and wheat were hijacked en route from Dubai to Yemen. Its 11 Indian sailors were taken hostage; two of the crew were subsequently rescued from a car that the pirates abandoned in a chase, while the other nine are still missing. In a third incident the dhow Casayr II was taken on 24th March and was believed to be operating as a mother ship off Socotra Island. It was released after the pirates took food and diesel.
A Pakistan-owned cargo vessel Salama 1 has also recently been hijacked by Somali pirates, while on 8th April a cargo ship OS-35, flying the flag of Tuvalu, was attacked by pirates while heading from Port Kelang to Aden, Yemen. The hijack attempt was foiled due to timely rescue operations mounted by international maritime forces in the vicinity. The crew reportedly retreated to the onboard citadel after activating an alert system.
Amid these piracy incidents, India’s Directorate General of Shipping issued a maritime security advisory recommending all vessels to avoid transiting the Gulf of Aden, keeping a safe distance of at least more than 200 nautical miles from the coast.
“These pirate incidents demonstrate the importance of continually pursuing the anti-piracy defence line,” Mrs. Yakunchenkova commented. “In light of the recent activity, the critical importance of staying vigilant at all times passing the High Risk Area, route risk assessment planning, and compliance with BMP4, the implementation of which has been shown to be effective in protecting vessels and crews, cannot be understated. The threat of Somali piracy has never been eradicated.”
Al Safina Security advises clients to fill in the ship security review in compliance with the company’s ISO/PAS 9001:2008, 28007:2013 and 28007-1:2015 standards. It also advises: Conducting voyage-specific risk assessments; avoiding the practice of using the Socotra Gap as a short cut; increasing watch keeping, lookouts and bridge manning; installing sufficient hardening facilities; training ship staff in anti-piracy drill, and the use of appropriately trained and competent Private Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), the deployment of which should not be a substitute, but a supplement to effective compliance with the BMP4 guidelines.
Mrs. Yakunchenkova concludes, “In such a maritime security climate, it is imperative to adhere to existing counter-piracy measures to strengthen the security of commercial shipping. Partial compliance with the recommended procedures, as well as a reduction in precautions taken by shipping companies, can result in successful attacks, as we can see has happened lately. “