Pirate attacks are increasing but the number of successful hijackings is on the wane – the reasons
Life is getting tougher for the pirates off the coast of Somalia. Last week, the Royal Navy foiled an attack by a group on a Spanish fishing boat in the Indian Ocean.
After being alerted to the threat, the Lynx helicopter from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria ship gave chase to a skiff, manned by pirates, that sped from the scene.
The gang was apprehended after a sniper on board the helicopter fired warning shots ahead of their boat.
But ships, helicopters, sniffer dogs and rifles are not the only weapons being used to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Suspected pirates are now being hauled before the courts.
The seven suspects captured by the Navy were transferred to the Seychelles to stand trial. Their case will be the first heard there since Britain signed an agreement with the island state to transfer pirates.
Through Nato’s counter-piracy operation, Fort Victoria is used specifically to fight the problem and was involved in the apprehension of 11 suspected pirates in October when the Italian ship, Montecristo, was held with 23 hostages on board.
Crucially, the crew locked themselves in the vessel’s citadel – a secure panic room in which they can raise the alarm and, in some cases, steer the ship.
Five Somali men were jailed for up to eight years by a French court on Wednesday for hijacking a yacht and taking a couple hostage in the Gulf of Aden in 2008.
It was the first time France prosecuted suspected pirates, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands and the US. The latter sentenced a Somali man to 33 years for hijacking a ship and kidnapping its captain.
However, most trials of suspected pirates are held in Kenya.
Since piracy in the waters off Somalia gained notoriety in the past few years, it was common for apprehended suspects to be released because of confusion over jurisdiction and a lack of evidence.
But the tide is beginning to turn. Although the number of attacks on ships has risen this year, successful hijackings by Somali pirates have fallen – there have been 26 so far, compared with 49 in 2010, according to figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
Meanwhile, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) says its arrests have resulted in 56 pirates being convicted, while 55 suspects are in custody awaiting trial.
EU NAVFOR’s primary goal is to protect food aid being delivered to refugees in Somalia – it has escorted 130 ships carrying 774,000 tonnes of supplies into the country, helping keep 1.1million people alive.
It is also tasked with deterring and preventing piracy in the area.
‘We need the oceans and we don’t need them to be pirated,’ said Commander Harrie Harrison, of EU NAVFOR.
He said a number of factors explained the decrease in hijackings, including ships being better prepared for attack.
‘If it’s impossible to get on board, the pirates will fail. A recent success was a ship which had completely ringed the upper deck with razor wire, they’d put steel gates between the decks and they had a citadel where the crew could go to.
They were doing 20 knots and a skiff came up behind them and, although it fired RPGs on them, they just could not get on board.
‘The ship called and gave out a distress call to us, which alerts the nearest warship to assist. All the crew went to the citadel. That’s the way ahead. Modern ships are being built with them.’
Cmdr Harrison explained that an increasing number of merchant ships are hiring armed guards to ward off pirate attacks.
In October, David Cameron said ships under the British flag are allowed to have guards on board under a new law. The prime minister branded piracy ‘a complete stain on our world’.
Despite the drop in hijackings, Cmdr Harrison says the incentive remains for pirates, who are beginning to venture further afield to carry out attacks.
‘They are criminals and the risk-reward equation is extremely high,’ he added. ‘If you manage to capture a ship as a Somali gang of criminals, you’re set up for life because of the amount of money it brings in.’
Leslie Edwards, of Compass Risk Management, has worked on dozens of kidnapping cases across the world and been involved in nine cases involving ship hijackings. He said the pirates will not be deterred by recent setbacks.
‘They are cunning and have a way of getting round this. I think they are some of the most resourceful people on the planet. I’m told by contacts inside Somalia there are 100 groups out there and they are active and looking.’
Cyrus Moby, spokesman for the IMB, said the drop in hijackings owed much to the ‘robust targeting of the pirate skiffs and their ships’ by various navies.
‘If things continue the way they are in terms of naval operations, hopefully their strength will go down,’ he said.
Source: Neptune Maritime Security