Gulf of Guinea
In the Gulf of Guinea, the surge in the number of incidents that involved the kidnap of crew for ransom off the Niger Delta during the first quarter of 2014 has now receded. There has been just one confirmed case where two crew members were taken from a tanker in the Calabar Estuary in April of this year. There were seven reported attacks resulting in kidnapping during the first quarter of this year. This is not to say that the intent from criminal gangs to continue such raids has disappeared.
The threat of violence used in these incidents is highlighted in the hijack of the MT SP Brussels on 29 April that resulted in the tragic death of a crew member and the injuring of another. In other incidences crew have been tied up during robberies/hijackings and kidnappings; 41 crew members on the fishing vessel Marine 711 in June. Boarders in West Africa continue to use threatening behaviour, more so than other regions, and although physical harm may not come to crew, psychologically the experiences must be very damaging.
During a temporary migration of criminal activity west to Togolese/Ghanaian waters at the end of May/early June, the hijack of MT Fair Artemis, and subsequent cargo theft highlighted the continued threat posed by Nigerian gangs to take tankers for cargo theft outside of their own nation’s waters.
There have been 14 confirmed incidents reported during the second quarter of the year, compared to 22 in the first. Overall, figures for 2014 so far show that the levels of crime in the region are on a par with recent years.
Horn of Africa
With the arrival of the southwest monsoon during Q2, more small craft are operating within the Gulf of Aden, bringing additional complexity in identifying potential threats. We have seen a number of misidentified small craft since the onset of the SW monsoon and will likely continue to see such false reports. That said the Gulf of Aden is a known route for illegal smugglers and migrants who may often be armed. Suspicious approaches have been reported in the area and it is possible that craft transiting between Somalia and Yemen may ‘probe’ in an opportunistic way, without actually driving home an attack at this stage when encountering visible vessel defences in the form of armed guards.
With Dryad recording only eight incidents in the HRA in Q2 it is almost certain that many organisations will argue that piracy is defeated in the Indian Ocean. However, many of the conditions in Somalis that led to the rise in piracy remain in place. Any reduction in precautions due to complacency could see a return to higher levels of piracy.
The good news of the quarter, and of the year to date, is the release of the crew of the Albedo from Somali pirate control. After almost four years in captivity, the remaining crew were finally liberated in early June. These seafarers have suffered extreme distress, having been hijacked in November 2010, seen seven of their number released in 2012 and suffering the loss of their vessel and death and disappearance of some crew mates. The good news now is that the remaining 11 men have now returned to their families. A special mention should go to the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) who supported the seamen’s families during their time in captivity and worked with others to facilitate the release of the remaining crew after they were reportedly abandoned by the vessel’s owner. Whilst this is a good news story, it should not be forgotten that approx. 40 seafarers remain in captivity in Somalia.
Southeast Asia remains the area with the highest number of maritime crime incidents. The boarding of vessels underway in the area of Singapore occur regularly, with 12 such cases report now reported during 2014. Nineteen vessels also reported robberies, attempted robberies and suspicious approaches in the anchorages to the east of the Singapore Strait. There is at least one gang operating to the east of Singapore with the intention of hijacking small product tankers and stealing their cargo of fuel oil. These criminals have knowledge in the workings of ships’ equipment and procedures for carrying out STS transfers. MT Ai Maru attacked in June was the fifth confirmed product tanker hijacking since April 2014. Dryad is not expecting to see the level of maritime crime to fall in this region for the remainder of the year unless there is significant investment by local maritime forces in proactively countering this crime.
Abu Sayyaf continues to operate with relative impunity in the southern Philippines and adjacent coasts. While most of their activity centres on coastal terrorist attacks, the kidnap of a German couple from MY Catherine was also reported in Q2. Whilst there is little evidence that Abu Sayyaf will start to target larger, commercial vessels in the region, the possibility remains that they could develop this capability. With is in mind, Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) is reported to have initiated routing measures for commercial vessels to help improve maritime security in the region.