Pirates ignore tonnage belonging to
As the Indian Ocean monsoons wane, international shipping companies are bracing themselves for a new season of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, fearing fresh involvement from actors beyond Somalia. The rains and rough seas of the monsoon season which runs from June to September have traditionally seen a lull in activity. But last month two chemical tankers were seized in Omani territorial waters, one at anchorage two miles off Salalah, the sultanate’s main southern port. Worldwide, pirate attacks have been increasing.
According to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, attacks on the world’s seas totalled 266 in the first six months of this year, up from 196 incidents in the same period last year. Data published earlier this month showed the worldwide figure had risen to 335 events. Somali involvement stood at 188 incidents, with 24 hijackings, 400 crew members held hostage and eight killed. Now the deteriorating domestic security situation in Yemen is adding to concerns. Sana’a, the capital, has seen days of bloody street battles following the unexpected return of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president. Even in more peaceful times, Mr Saleh’s authority outside the Yemeni capital was tenuous.
“Yemen is spinning apart and people there are wondering where their next paycheck or meal is coming from,” says Michael Frodl, head of C-Level Maritime Risks, a US consultancy. “Some Yemenis are looking back to piracy themselves, or even just “facilitating” the piracy of others, be they Yemeni or Somali or even others.” Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma), agrees there is collusion from Yemeni coastal actors with the pirates.
Pirates have learnt to discern vessels owned by companies who have paid large ransoms, and are ignoring tonnage belonging to “bad payers”. “Ships being intercepted so precisely should indicate that there is a sophisticated intelligence network for the pirates, providing them with information on the whereabouts and heading of ships,” says Mr. Kahwaji. “You can only gain this information [through] ports overlooking the Gulf of Aden.” The scourge of piracy and the sustained unrest of the past months has hit Yemen hard.
In 2008, throughput at Aden, Yemen’s biggest port, was 40,000 twenty-foot-equivalent-units (TEU) a month, a common industry measurement. That number fell to 27,000 in 2009 but recovered to 30,000 in 2010. Abhishek Tandon of UK-based Drewry Shipping Consultants says that year-to-date data suggest that the average has plummeted to an all-time low of 14,000 TEU per month this year. Aden is Yemen’s primary port for container handling. It also has four tanker berths.
Other historic Yemeni ports such as Mukalla and Mokha have only limited cargo handling equipment and infrastructure. “The combined effect of piracy at its peak, the extremely volatile situation in the country and development of other transshipment hubs in its vicinity like Dholera (on India’s west coast), Jeddah and Salalah have reduced its chances,” says Mr Tandon. Aden was hit when Pacific International Line, a main-line operator, shifted its transshipment hub from Aden to Djibouti and no replacement has been found.
Dubai’s DP World obtained concessions in Aden and Mukalla in 2008. Asked about the future of those concessions, a DP World spokesperson says: “As we have said previously, unrest in the Middle East earlier this year impacted throughput at some of our terminals in the region but ours is a long-term business and we have no intention of pulling out of Aden.” Nigel Chevriot of PIL Yemen says that there are difficulties in moving cargo from Yemen’s ports to the main markets of Sana’a and Taiz. Yemeni merchants are nervous over a possible worsening of the crisis. They have been reducing stocks and are finding it hard to obtain credit, he says.
Mr Frodl says that Yemenis, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Omanis, and even Iranians are going out to sea and do not need Somalis to lead them. Nationals from all these countries have been picked up already by the navies operating in the Indian Ocean. The international shipping community has not been passive in the face of the piracy threat. In 2009 it created the International Recommended Transit Corridor under which ships approaching the Gulf of Aden form convoys under warship escort drawn from the European Union, the US and China.
Moreover, few observers believe that the pirates will be able to extend their activities inside the Straits of Hormuz due to the heavy US navy presence among others. But risk analysts say that piracy in the Indian Ocean remains a relatively low-risk occupation and that Somalis are inspiring others in the region to think of piracy as a career or industry given how well it pays and how little risk it entails. “There will likely be a resurgence in piracy in the western Indian Ocean (including up to the Straits of Hormuz) as the weather becomes more favourable for small boat operation,” says the head of a Europe-based umbrella shipping organisation.
“It is likely that, inter alia, disaffected groups from Yemen will see this as a good business opportunity and either join Somalis or conduct copycat activity,” he says.
Source: Financial Times