The following narrative accompanies Dryad’s maritime crime figures for Quarter 2 (April to June) of 2015, assessing the situation across our main areas of maritime interest. The report is not limited to traditional piracy and maritime crime, but includes commentary on other threats and issues; from civil war and terrorism in Yemen and Libya to criminal gang enabled mass migration – areas and issues upon which we report regularly to our clients. The narrative, compiled by Dryad’s regional analysts, is set against a highly visible, complex and dynamic international backdrop.
There has been an increase of 22% in reported incidents across Southeast Asia in comparison with the first six months of 2014; 120 instances of piracy and maritime crime have been reported to Dryad. There have been 12 vessels hijacked during the first half of the year; an increase of three on the same period last year. Ten of these hijacks have been for the purpose of cargo theft with eight of these being successful; MT Sun Birdie and MT Orkim Harmony were both recovered with their cargo intact. The boarding and subsequent robbery from vessels transiting the Singapore Strait has continued apace with 48 vessels reporting incidents in the first six months of the year, a 118% increase on 2014 figures. The most significant drop in incidents has been in the anchorages to the east of the Singapore Strait. In the first six months of 2014, there were 18 vessels boarded in the area and for the same period this year there have been only five. The robbery from vessels at anchor around Southeast Asia continues, with Bangladesh and Vietnam seeing the most cases.
The arrest of two sets of hijackers during the first six months of the year will likely result in a slowdown in the numbers of small, local product tankers being hijacked in the area. However, this will almost certainly be just a temporary setback for the criminal syndicates that appear able to evade arrest and recruit new members to carry out the actual attacks. Dryad expects to see a resumption of attempted hijacks in July.
With little apparent evidence of coordinated security patrols of the Singapore Strait by the three surrounding nations, the criminal gangs who board passing vessels are operating almost with impunity, sometimes boarding three vessels a night. The vast majority of these boardings take place in the eastbound Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) between Pulau Karimun Kecil and Pulau Besar. Until effective patrols are put in place these crimes will almost certainly continue.
There have been no incidents of piracy across the HRA in Q2. The last confirmed vessel to be fired upon by suspected Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean HRA was in February 2014. Interestingly, there have been only six advisory notices promulgated by UKMTO in Q2, and only one of these has been in the BaM/Southern Red Sea. This sudden reduction in suspicious incident reports coincides with the intervention of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen. The only confirmed reports of maritime crime were four cases of robbery; three from vessels alongside at Kandla, India and one in Mombasa, Kenya. These incidents were carried out by opportunistic local criminals and have no links to Somali piracy.
The civil war in Yemen is still raging with daily airstrikes by coalition aircraft on Houthi positions. In the Gulf of Aden, the port city of Aden is one of the most violent areas, with rival factions fighting intensely over large areas of the city. Vessels attempting to dock at Aden have been fired upon with rockets and shells and the refinery at Aden was hit and reported to be burning out of control. Despite being in Houthi hands, the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef continue to operate. All vessels heading to these ports are required to have the correct permissions to arrive there; on approach, they are stopped and searched by Saudi and Egyptian warships with any non-conformity resulting in the vessels being denied entry to the ports.
During Q2, three vessels were harassed, with two being fired upon by Iranian military vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. One vessel, MV Maersk Tigris, was arrested and forced to sail to Bandar Abbas where she was anchored under Iranian control for nine days before being released. The Iranian authority’s rationale for this arrest was an unpaid bill from over 10 years ago. However, in the week prior to this incident, a convoy of Iranian vessels heading towards Yemen, and suspected of delivering supplies to the Houthis, had been intercepted by US naval forces and was forced to turn back to Iran.
The Southwest Monsoon has now taken hold across the Somali Basin/Arabian Sea and will continue through to mid-September. During this period, sea conditions will be outside of limits for the operation of small craft. There is very little opportunity for Somali pirates to operate in open ocean areas during the Monsoon. Conditions within the Gulf of Aden and the Southern Red Sea will, for the majority of this period, be within limits for pirate operations, but there are no current indicators to suggest a resumption of pirate activity.
Gulf of Guinea
In April and May, at least 20 mariners were taken from five vessels off the shores of Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in Nigeria. Kidnapping of crew for ransom still remains the most significant threat to seafarers in the region. Given the historical frequency of attacks off Bayelsa State, Nigeria, it is somewhat surprising that there has been just one attack offshore there this year, with none occurring during this last quarter. Dryad judges that it is only a matter of time before attacks against a range of commercial shipping resume in this area with the prime motive of crew kidnap for ransom.
There have been no incidents of cargo theft in West Africa since MT Mariam was hijacked off the coast of Warri on 11 January. This form of piracy in the region has reduced in frequency since two tankers were hijacked in June and July of 2014 off the coasts of Ghana and Togo. That said, as the risk of attack remains a very real one, there should be no room for complacency amongst product tanker operators.
Overall, there have been 16 confirmed incidents reported during the second quarter of 2015 compared with 18 during the first quarter, and 15 during the same period last year – records of Dryad’s reportable incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are generally consistent with the number of recorded incidents from previous years.
The extremely unstable political and military situation within Libya continues, affecting adjacent countries as well as normal shipping and trading operations, as is the continuing humanitarian crisis of Mediterranean migration emanating from Libya and other countries.
Oil export remains of critical importance to Libya’s economy and the continued fighting seriously affects the country’s ability to maintain its finances. It was anticipated that Q2 would see this improve, but the hopes that Ras Lanuf and As Sidr would reopen have not yet been realised and these oil export terminals remain closed to tanker traffic. UN sponsored talks in Morocco are at a critical juncture with both sides meeting for face to face talks at the end of the period. Acceptance of the negotiated plan will hopefully reduce the level of violence but, as with any similar agreement, it is only the continued acceptance by the lowest level of fighters on all sides that will prevent the re-ignition of violence.
Further attacks on merchant ships close to the Libyan coast have occurred following on from the attack on MT Araevo on 4 January. MV Tuna 1 and MT Anwar Afriqya were both attacked in May, in waters off Derna and Sirte, respectively. More recently, an unconfirmed report suggests that a probable fishing vessel was attacked off Benghazi in June.
During Q2, Islamic State has had mixed success in establishing itself in Libya. While it had some success in Sirte, it appears to have been ejected from Derna. Its reach has expanded to adjacent countries with the attacks in Tunisia on both the Bardo Museum in March and at the beach in Sousse being claimed by IS affiliated groups. Despite the indirect maritime nature (cruise ship passenger and beach hotel victims), there is insufficient evidence for Dryad to change its previous judgement that the terrorist threat to transiting merchant traffic is low.
The risk to foreigners ashore in Libya, however, remains high throughout the country, with visiting workers in danger of inadvertently being caught up in the heavy fighting ashore, as well as facing the threat of kidnap. These conditions mean that vessel crews are strongly recommended not leave the confines of the terminals and ports they are operating in.
On migration, the recent UN report stating that over 137,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean in the first 6 months of the year compared to just 75,000 in the same period last year has further highlighted the scale of the humanitarian crisis. The European Unions’ efforts to deal with the problem have not yet been fully approved by the United Nations. However, additional Coastguard and Naval vessels are operating in the area alongside charities, such as Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), in an attempt to prevent the loss of life seen earlier in the year. Despite these efforts, commercial vessels are still being engaged in rescue operations involving large numbers of migrants. There are also threats to navigation in the transit areas as traffickers act covertly with unlit boats at night.
Latin America and Caribbean
Reports of robbery from sailing vessels and from anchored merchant vessels have reduced from 10 seen in Q1 to four in Q2. Two of these were robberies from sailing vessels at anchor and two from MVs at anchor. There is a threat to sailing vessels throughout the Caribbean. Yachts anchored in exposed bays are targeted due to the perception the owners are wealthy and carrying large amounts of cash. These attacks commonly see the use of extreme violence with knives and guns often used. Despite the continued uncertainty in Venezuela there have been no instances of crime reported against MVs in the country’s ports. Ports in Brazil, Peru and Colombia have seen robbery from vessels at anchor and alongside in the recent past. Sensible security measures should be put in place when operating in these areas.