Maritime Crime Figures for Q3 2015

The following narrative accompanies Dryad’s maritime crime figures for Quarter 3 (July to September) 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 that are not accompanied by statistics; from civil war and terrorism in Yemen and Libya to criminal gang enabled mass migration. These are areas and issues which we report regularly to our clients.

The volume of crime in Southeast Asia continues to catch our attention, where we have seen a 38% rise in incidents of maritime crime when compared to the first nine months of last year, even if the quarterly figures represent a decrease on Q2. We continue to call for the three nations surrounding the Singapore Strait to provide a more permanent security presence in the area. However, despite announcements by the MMEA and Indonesian authorities on enhancing patrol areas, alongside some limited successes, there is much more to be done to guarantee the security of vessels transiting or operating in these areas.  As we look forward to the last quarter of 2015, we are also mindful of the fact that the last three months of the last three years have featured the highest number of incidents and can see no reason why this trend will not continue.

In the High Risk Area (HRA) of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, we have not seen any confirmed pirate activity against a commercial vessel in Q3.  This three-month period is dominated by the Southwest Monsoon, but Dryad does not expect to see any significant return to open ocean piracy in the remainder of the year.  The recently announced revision to the BMP4 HRA is a welcome, incremental step towards normality.  The reduced area, which comes into force on 1st December, is some 55% smaller than the current one, reflecting the true nature of the open ocean piracy threat in recent years.  Like BIMCO and its co-sponsors, we continue to caution against complacency in the HRA and encourage all vessels to continue to report to UKMTO in the Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA).  It is premature to declare total victory on Somali piracy, but the latest events are a welcome step in de-escalation.

The last three months in West Africa have been the quietest in recent years in terms of incidents of maritime crime, with just one incident involving the use of firearms being reported at sea, when an armed gang conducted a robbery from a product tanker in the Conakry Anchorages in early July. Whilst it is too early to draw any firm conclusion from the lull in Gulf of Guinea maritime crime, the reduction will be seen as a positive for the newly elected Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, with some commentators attributing the improved situation to his coming to power.  Only time will tell if this long period of calm can be sustained.

Outside of the areas above, the world continues to present challenges to seafarers; from the risk involved in trading in some war-torn, frontier markets such as Libya or Yemen, to the potential to become engaged in maritime, humanitarian operations in the Mediterranean, there is a need for all those engaged in maritime operations, ashore or afloat, to be aware of the environment, the threats and the risks.  The analysis that follows is Dryad’s contribution to this essential awareness.

 Ian Millen, Chief Operating Officer


Southeast Asia

The first nine months of 2015 have seen the number of incidents reported across Southeast Asia rise by 38% when compared to the same period in 2014 with 194 instances of maritime crime, including 14 hijackings, in Dryad’s reports. In the last quarter we have seen only one product tanker hijacked for the purpose of cargo theft; MT Joaquim was taken in the Malacca Strait, resulting in 3000 metric tonnes of fuel being siphoned from the vessel. Despite reports that Indonesian authorities had arrested a small tanker they believed to have been the offload vessel, the outcome of their investigation has not been made public.  The slowdown in fuel siphoning incidents during the last three months is unlikely to continue into the final quarter and Dryad expects these hijacking to increase in the coming months.

Petty theft of ships stores, mainly engine parts, continue to be the target for gangs operating in the Singapore Strait. Dryad has now recorded 90 instances of theft or attempted theft within the Strait during the first nine months of the year, with more than 80% of these occurring in the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) between Pulau Karimun Kecil and Pulau Besar during the hours of darkness. Throughout the year, Dryad has been calling for the three nations surrounding the Strait to provide a permanent security presence in the area. However, despite announcements by the MMEA and the Indonesian authorities on enhancing patrol cooperation and coordination, there remains little in the way of a visual presence in this particular area.

The anchorage off Vung Tau, Vietnam, has also seen a rise in the number of reported incidents this year with 12 cases of robbery, this compares to only five incidents during the whole of 2015. There is no obvious reason for the large increase in boardings and robberies at this location. The Vietnamese Maritime Police Force is supposedly patrolling these anchorages, but it would appear they are not providing sufficient deterrent to the opportunist thieves in the area.

The final quarter of the last three years has historically been the period of the highest number of incidents.  Dryad sees no reason why this will not remain the same this year. The patrolling of anchorages by security forces that came into force in early 2014, appears to either have been reduced in scale or terminated. Without such a highly visual presence from security agencies, criminal gangs operate freely with little fear of capture or prosecution.


High Risk Area (HRA) – Gulf of Aden & Indian Ocean

Q3 has been dominated by the seasonal Southwest Monsoon.  Sea conditions in the Arabian Sea and the northern Indian Ocean have, for the majority of the last three months, been outside the operating parameters for pirate skiffs. There have been no incidents of piracy of large commercial vessels across the HRA in Q3 and the last confirmed vessel to be fired upon by suspected Somali pirates in the HRA was in February 2014. Four vessels have reported robberies while at anchor or alongside in ports in Africa and India, with one more vessel being boarded. Reports of suspicious vessels in the Southern Red Sea/BaM and in the Gulf of Oman have also reduced, with only three advisories being issued by UKMTO in the quarter, all of which Dryad assessed as interaction with local traffic and not Somali pirates.

In what seems like a glimpse back in history, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing off Somalia has been highlighted in the last quarter. The ongoing detention of the Iranian fishing dhow, Seraj, off Ceel Hur remains a concern.  However, the failure of those holding the vessel to use it as a mothership to attack commercial shipping offshore suggests that the detention is more related to a legal dispute over fishing, however unconventional the judicial process may be, rather than an attempt to acquire logistic platforms and exact ransoms. It also highlights how the local population can maintain the security of the waters without an official coastguard and without being labelled pirates by the wider maritime community.

During the coming inter-monsoonal period (Oct- Dec) in the next quarter, Dryad assesses there will be no significant return to Somali piracy. Without the funds or equipment, of which they are probably starved, coupled with the continued presence of anti-piracy coalition warships and air assets, the will of any potential pirate to take to sea has been greatly diminished.



Adjacent to the HRA shipping lanes, the civil war in Yemen continues, where Saudi-led coalition forces have taken back large swathes of the country. Exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his Government have returned to Aden in what is more of a symbolic gesture than one of providing a functioning political system. Islamic Jihadist organisations have stepped in to the security void in the south and east of Yemen and are reported to be openly operating in the streets of Al Mukalla and Aden. The Red Sea port of Hodeidah was bombed by coalition aircraft on 18 August, temporally forcing closure of the port. Vessels wishing to trade at Hodeidah and its sister port of Saleef (both in Houthi held territory) are still required to seek permissions from the Yemeni Department of Transport before being allowed to approach the ports. The port of Aden recommenced commercial operations in August after a four month closure. Coalition forces and Hadi loyalists have commenced an offensive in the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah. The Houthi leadership, along with former Premier Saleh have signed a seven point agreement with the UN, but President Hadi has dismissed this as a political manoeuvre and reiterated the government’s refusal to negotiate until the Houthis disarm and withdraw without preconditions.


West Africa & Gulf of Guinea

The last three months has been the quietest quarter in recent years in terms of incidents of maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea, with just one incident involving the use of firearms reported, when an armed gang conducted a robbery from a product tanker in Conakry Anchorages in early July. Apart from this, there were just three attempted boardings by gangs of would-be thieves; one against a container ship off Lome and two in the anchorages of Lagos, which targeted a cable layer and a cargo vessel. All three raids were repelled by the vigilance of crew and embarked security teams.

Increased patrols by the Nigerian Navy (NN), using vessels that have been commissioned in recent months, appear to be having a significant impact on criminal gangs’ abilities to operate offshore. Reporting indicates that naval patrols are increasing at the entrances to major estuaries and ports, and that the security forces are increasingly questioning the intentions of suspicious craft.  However, the NN cannot cover the whole EEZ.  Historically, attacks against oil support vessels have occurred outside of the 12nm TTW and in areas outside of the exclusion zones monitored by offshore platform security patrols; effectively outside the security bubbles provided by government and commercial security.

Kidnap for ransom ashore in the Niger Delta is reported almost daily, whilst we have seen a lull in kidnap activity offshore Niger Delta.  It is clearly easier to target individuals ashore than offshore in the current environment, but Dryad’s assessment is that criminal elements ashore remain capable of operating at sea, although they will need some method of countering the Nigerian Navy’s increasing presence before they consider recommencing activities offshore.

Looking ahead it seems probable that if President Buhari stops funding the militants under the amnesty agreement as promised in his election campaign, an increase in crime by gangs in the Niger Delta will occur. That crime would inevitably spill out into the Gulf of Guinea and would very probably see an escalation of attacks against commercial shipping and mariners.



The Middle East/European migrant chaos continued through Q3 with much of the media reporting focussed on the Eastern Mediterranean as refugees continued to flee from regional conflicts. Turkey and Greece’s proximity to Syria has put those nations at the forefront of the migration crisis that is affecting the Mediterranean as a whole. In Greece, over 200,000 migrants have reached the nation’s eastern Aegean shores this year, with the number peaking in early September. The majority of migrants arriving on Greek island shores are making the relatively short crossings from the Turkish coast. In Turkey, attempts to cross the land border into Europe are increasing in recognition of the risks posed by sea crossings in dinghies in the dark.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stated in August that over 2,000 people had died so far in 2015 attempting to make the more hazardous journey across the central Mediterranean to Europe from North Africa; the overwhelming majority of them leaving Libya. The situation particularly south of Malta continues at crisis levels.

Looking ahead, the EU has agreed that that European warships would be ready to make arrests of traffickers from 7 October, but they would remain outside of Libya’s 12 NM coastal territory. The EU mission has identified 20 boats of which 17 are Libyan and three Egyptian, that are regularly used by traffickers to escort the migrant vessels out to sea. It is not yet clear how successful these operations are likely to be or whether they will affect the flow of people across the Mediterranean.

Some commentators anticipate that the numbers of migrants using the central Mediterranean route will reduce in any case during the coming winter months, but this is not backed up by evidence from last year. In addition, the NGO rescue boats tend to withdraw from the Mediterranean over the winter. Whilst this has not been confirmed, there is a strong possibility that the responsibility of rescuing the migrants will again fall on commercial shipping in the region over the next few months.


Mediterranean Terrorism

Maritime terrorism has also remained a concern in the Mediterranean during the 3rd quarter. On 16 July, Islamist militant group ‘Sinai Province’ attacked an Egyptian naval patrol vessel off the Sinai Coast close to the border with Israel.  A rocket fired from shore struck the coastguard vessel but the Egyptian military said that no crew died in the attack. Threats were also made against the newly extended Suez Canal, alongside the arrest of a Suez Canal Authority employee in August who was accused of planning to plant bombs to disrupt the canal infrastructure. Egypt’s security forces have remained focused on protecting the canal and its associated shipping and, whilst the possibility of an attempted attack on the canal itself cannot be dismissed, it is thought the likelihood of success would be low due to the very high levels of security.



The leader of Libya’s parliament has said that the elected House of Representatives will continue talks past the 20 October deadline for its mandate to expire, if a peace deal with the divided country’s rival government is not reached by then. The General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli has the support of Islamist militias; however, the UN is hoping that the internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk, will form a national unity government with them. It seems increasingly likely that the unelected authorities in Tripoli are killing time by refusing to sign any agreement, and are hoping that the HoR’s limited authority will weaken still further, until after the mandate for their governance expires on 20 October. The terminal at Zuetina only recently re-opened in early October, following a period of over five months where local people seeking work there had halted crude oil cargoes. Similar statements regarding the re-opening of Ras Lanuf and As Sidr terminals have been made for many months, but these have proved to be premature.

On 16 September, coast guard forces loyal to the rival Tripoli based government seized MT Mekhanik Chebotarev, a Russian flagged tanker suspected of involvement in fuel smuggling. The owners reported that the ship was initially detained 17 nautical miles offshore in international waters.  The vessel was in ballast and had been proceeding from Malta to the port of Zawiya.  At the time of writing, the ship remains detained at the naval jetty in Misurata.  This is the third vessel accused of fuel smuggling in Libya and highlights the commercial risk of trading at certain ports in the country.


Latin America and Caribbean

Dryad has seen a total of five incidents during Q3. Robbery from yachts around the Caribbean is a continual threat, but many of these incidents are not reported to piracy watchdogs like the IMB, making true figures difficult to ascertain. The attack on a yacht at anchor in the Rosario Islands area near Cartagena, Columbia in September tragically resulted in the death of the owner’s wife. Such use of extreme violence is a hallmark of robbers during attacks on Yachts in the Caribbean. There continues to be a low level of criminality against MVs anchored at the major ports in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, where Dryad also believes many incidents go unreported, urging all mariners to adopt sensible security measures when operating in these areas.