Being involved in this industry since 2009 and having served in most positions from being a guard to my current position in the management team of a leader in Maritime Security, I an say that back tin the early days we were like rock stars and maritime security was a new and interesting experiment but no one really knew what had to be done.
Now a days, the industry is regulated, there are procedures in place but there is also a lot of complacency.
Last year was very interesting for maritime security; the HRA was reduced in December as per 55% or 1.7 million square miles. EU NAVFOR ATALANTA has currently three warships and two aircraft as opposed to an average of 10 assets per year in the past. EU NAVFOR ATALANTA has been extended to December 2018, which clearly indicates that there is a reason for this force to be there under the mandate that it is. Each frigate, in order to be maintained in the area of operations, costs about 1.8 million € a month. Therefore, under current conditions, that is a lot of money and nations are not very willing to spend it.
The first incident of 2016 came early, in January 27th, involving the M/V MSC Clara. The vessel was targeted by pirates; there was an exchange of fire. The armed security that was onboard stopped the incident but there was mixed reporting and it was known that one of the aggressors was short dead. However, EUNAVFOR and UKMTO came out shortly after and said that nobody got killed. What we identify here again, is the actual problem with reporting in the region.
Overall we had 15 incidents in 2016 to date; some of them were really strange; for example, in one incident an Iranian tanker was attacked in the Bab al Mandeb by 115 pirates onboard 10 skiffs. At least that is what the Iranian navy said continuing to stress that their 44th fleet thwarted the attack. This incident was not witnessed by any other vessel so it does leave some doubt.
It is interesting to note that most incidents are located close to Yemen and mainly in the Bab al Mandeb. ofcourse we have Somali based attacks and hijackings but these mainly involve local traders and fishing vessels. Under reporting of incidents in the HRA of the Indian Ocean is much bigger than I personally thought, but it mainly involves the above mentioned local traders and fishing vessels that are operating in the region. In 2016 we have seen a rise of attacks and hijackings in the Indian Ocean in contrast with 2015. I must stress that the last time any large, international merchant vessel was captured was in 2012, so the numbers that we are seeing here are again local traders and fishing vessels.
The following slide is taken from oceansbeyondpiracy.com and it indicates with grey dots the incidents that have gone under reported. As you can see all of them are in the Somali basin and a couple are quite out far from the coast, these are some of the under reported incidents mentioned as they do not appear in the main stream platforms that report piracy incidents.
Recapping for East Africa, the HRA has shrunk, naval assets have been reduced, the cost to fight Somali piracy has dropped, the number of PMSC’s operating has minimized, many have closed and one major topic is that the quality of the PMSC’s that are operating has been seriously affected by this drop; therefore, anybody contracting a PMSC should do good due diligence.
Is there any risk? I get this question very often. I believe that there is a risk because all the KPI’s for the region indicate that the resurgence of Somali piracy is just a matter of time and I think that this is common knowledge to all. My response is that if we become too relaxed, too complacent then the clans will wake up and of course we will have incidents again. So, my advice is do not become complacent and do not become the next/first victim in the Indian Ocean.
The following map indicates incidents reported in the West African region during the last six months; as we can see red which indicates attacks, is the dominant color in the area.
In the past we had noticed that most incidents, in Nigeria for example, used to happen in territorial waters and the 12 nautical mile range. That is not true anymore because now they have moved further offshore up to 150 nautical miles. We now see most of the attacks happening in the exclusive economic zone rather than just the narrow strip of the 12 nautical miles range.
Nigerian maritime criminality is well organized, well-armed and pirates are well trained. There is a high level of threat throughout the year, Nigerian pirates are ruthless and have little or no respect for human life. Most of the attacks are intelligence based but they are also opportunistic attacks; if they see a soft target in their vicinity they will have no problem attacking it.
The following are some common misconceptions about Nigerian pirates:
- They only attack tankers: they do not, they attack every type of vessel
- They only operate in territorial waters: they operate in the full extent of the EEZ
- They don’t harm the crew: on the contrary, they do harm the crew, mock executions, beatings and the conditions under which they are held captive are of so bad that sometimes they need to be hospitalized before they even return to their families.
- They only attack ships at anchor: that it is not true either, they attack ships underway as well.
- The Navy patrols that area and its safe : Navy cannot patrol the entire area and it is definitely not safe.
Few incidents of particular interest
- At Akwa Ibom State within the Mobile fields, the Johan Chouest, was attacked, fired upon and saved by a security vessel. One crew member suffered a shot wound in the leg.
- A container vessel was attacked near Pennington, 27 NM off shore. It is interesting to see this incident because the crew realized it was under attack when the pirates were already onboard. They were totally relaxed that container vessels are not a high risk type of vessel. Three crew members were kidnapped and later released after the ransom was paid.
- 118 NM SSW of Port Harcourt: The pirates boarded the vessel and took 6 crew members of Turkish nationality to an onshore location where they were held until ransom was paid and later they were released.
- The OTTOMAN EQUITY, another Turkish vessel, was attacked just outside Agbami FPSO while waiting to do cargo operations. The vessel managed to evade the attack because there were security measures deployed.
- The MADONNA 1 is a very famous incident for anybody looking into maritime criminality in the Gulf of Guinea. It was attacked 20 NM offshore, four crew members were taken hostages and released after ransom was paid.
They are many measures to enhance maritime security in the GoG. MDAT GoG is a voluntary reporting scheme that assist in domain awareness. Vessel hardening of course works, the BMP4 plus additional guidance for that specific region is advised. PMSC’s working with Government Security forces and the Nigerian Navy can provide escort vessels that are armed, it can also provide armed personnel of that Government Security Force to assist the client vessel and protect it. Maritime Security Liaison Officers (MSLO) is an unarmed, very good solution because it takes away a lot of the stress from the Master and the Chief Officer in regards to the security of the vessel. Intelligence and area specific updates are very important because things change rapidly there.
If you are contracting a PMSC in the Gulf of Guinea, you have to make sure that it is an indigenous company. A foreign company is not allowed to operate within Nigeria, for example. There needs to be an agreement between that PMSC and the Government Security forces. The PMSC must have access to purposely built escort vessels that must be approved by the Government Security forces. The PMSC must be adequately ensured. A BIMCO GUARDCON amended for West Africa may be used.
I have heard a lot of things about that region, especially while operating there, I’ve heard people telling me different types of things that are not necessarily true.
So, don't believe the hype, below are some truths:
- Weapons can not be privately owned or used even for the purpose of self defense
- No private armed guards are allowed in the full extent of the EEZ
- The PMSC’s can not enforce their own RUF’s
- The GSF will follow their governments mandate and their own set of RUF’s
- GSF don't shoot at anything they see, lethal force is the last resort
- It is illegal to contract GSF through shipping agents
- Non Nigerian MSLO’s are permitted as long as they are contracted by a Nigerian PMSC
As Rand Beers, Dep.Homeland Sec. Adv. has stated “The precondition to freedom is security’’ - this is something I appreciate and go by every single day.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
Dimitrios Maniatis, Business Development Manager, Diaplous Maritime Services
Having completed contracts for the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other European agencies in Afghanistan and wider Central Asia, from 2001 – 2009, Mr Maniatis started working in the Maritime Security Sector. Upon completing STCW and other relevant maritime training, he joined the ranks of the Armed Security Teams on board vessels in the HRA of the Indian Ocean. While sailing on ships and holding the position of Team Leader, he started university courses on shipping to complement his business studies. In 2012, he was given the opportunity to immerse in the business side of the MarSec game and this lead to a wonderful journey that has now brought him to the pinnacle of his MarSec goals by working within the Diaplous team. His role within Diaplous is the promotion of the company in new markets, the development of new businesses and the continuous growth of the group.