Dryad Maritime Intelligence have today confirmed the first shipping piracy attack of 2014 which saw an audacious and determined attack launched by Somali pirates south of Salalah in the late hours of 17th January. The news comes hot on the heels of the latest International Maritime Bureau (IMB) annual report on piracy and maritime crime, which welcomes a decrease in Somali piracy in 2013.
In the incident on Friday, a Mothership-enabled PAG attacked a transiting vessel with small arms fire. The on board security team took appropriate action and repelled the attack with a graduated response, culminating in an exchange of fire. The pirates ignored deterrence, and continued their approach, firing at the ship. A robust response from the embarked team was eventually enough to encourage the pirate skiff to return to the safety of its dhow mother vessel, allowing the merchant vessel to continue safely on its transit, reporting the incident to relevant authorities.
“This incident shows that, despite the very clear decline in the scope and scale of Somali piracy on the shipping industry, as evidenced by the IMB’s latest report and Dryad Maritime Intelligence’s own figures, the threat remains very real. There has been a clear reversal of fortune for Somali pirates in the last two years; the combined effects of proactive naval operations, compliance with anti-piracy BMP 4 measures and the embarkation of armed security guards have made life more difficult for maritime criminals, but the problem is only broadly contained and is unlikely to be totally eradicated until a solution is found on the ground in Somalia”.
With a powerful claim that no vessel has ever been hijacked with an armed security team on board, those that were initially sceptical on the prospect of having trained men and weapons embarked have more recently accepted that this particular ‘layer’ of defence has been a success story. Without armed guards, 2013 might not have been quite as bad a year as it was for Somali pirate gangs. With five merchant vessels and one fishing vessel attacked between the end of the SW Monsoon and year end, we could have seen a very different picture as we began 2014.
In each of the Somali pirate attacks above, four in the Somali Basin/Indian Ocean and two in the Gulf of Aden, embarked security teams were involved in deterring or repelling the attackers. Had these vessels not had armed teams on board, up to three of them could be under Somali pirate control to this day, providing new ships and crews for ransom and energising the Somali criminal cash flow, to say nothing of the morale boost for the pirates themselves following some very public and successful judicial outcomes in courts from the USA to Japan.
Of the attacks that did take place in late 2013, the most worrying were those in the Somali Basin and Indian Ocean. Here response times from coalition forces are necessarily extended, due to the significant distances that needed to be covered to render assistance. One PAG managed to conduct attacks on two separate ships on 6 and 9 Nov before NATO naval forces arrived to disrupt the group the day after the second attack. Fortunately, both ships attacked had the benefit of armed guards and were able to defend against the pirates who had desperately travelled many hundreds of miles into the Indian Ocean in nothing more than a skiff and a whaler for logistic support. Without this defence, the pirates may have taken control of at least one of these vessels.