Piracy Situation Risk Assessment, April 2014, Issue 24 Highlights of the Past Month:
Last month has seen the rise in piracy activities comparing to the last month. The main sources reported one attack and at least 10 suspicious events in Indian Ocean/Red Sea area, 7 incidents near Nigeria and 11 robbery attempts in South China Sea region.
On 30 Mar in Strait of Hormuz a merchant ship reported being shot at twice from close range from a speedboat carrying six people armed with machine guns, on Sunday morning. It repelled the attack with hoses and the vessel and crew are safe, NSC said. The attack happened on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz, about 90 minutes after a different merchant ship was approached by two speedboats with crews wearing military clothing.
Rest of the Indian Ocean along with the southern part of the Red Sea has seen some suspicious activities. No fires shot by the possible pirates but irregular chasing of vessels and also ladders in skiffs have been observed. The behavior may indicate the probing of the alertness and protection level of the vessels in the hope that due low piracy activity the vessels are about to abandon the armed guards. The latter ones have been the most serious deterrent measure and spoiler of the success to the pirates.
No vessel cargo was reported stolen in Gulf of Guinea this month but kidnapping of essential crew is still the high trend. The reason might be the lifted threat for the criminals to operate their own tankers for the oil theft due latest aggressive approach towards illegal fleet by Nigerian authorities.
On South China Sea and in Malacca Straits robbers have repordetly boarded few larger vessels than usual.
Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, a key chokepoint in international shipping which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, is now witnessing an upsurge of reports of possible pirate activity. There have been possible sighting of what appeared to be two motherships around 12:11.6N - 046:02.1E, at the end of February but, with the coast of four states in such close proximity it is entirely feasible that the attackers may be occasionally shore based, perhaps using a larger vessel to refuel or land supplies. The Strait provides an excellent potential hunting ground for pirates as virtually nothing can pass through the natural chokepoint unobserved with the operation of two corridors for inbound and outbound vessels each at just two miles wide.
Latest major incidents: INDIAN OCEAN, RED SEA, PERSIAN GULF STRAIT OF HORMUZ: 30 Mar on 26 24N 056 41E. At 11:45 a merchant vessel reported being attacked by 1 skiff with 6 persons on board armed with machine guns. Skiff came to 5 meters of vessel and fired 2 shots at the bridge and accommodation area. Vessel set alarm and activated fire hoses and skiff turned away.
STRAIT OF HORMUZ: 30 Mar on 26 22.6 N – 056 07.8E. At 10:15 2 green colored skiffs with 3 - 4 persons on board in military clothing and armed with machine guns got to 150 meters of a merchant vessel. After a while the skiffs turned away to Iranian coast. GULF OF OMAN: 30 Mar on 24 52N – 060 59E. At 08:05 a merchant vessel reported being approached to 2 meters by two skiffs. She took evasive maneuvers for 25 minutes and skiffs turned away. A ladder was sighted.
RED SEA: 27 Mar on 13 15N – 043 0E. At 1250 UTC a vessel en-route to join convoy at IRTC point A reported 5-6 skiffs at 1 nm and had to alter course in order to avoid them. On resumption of its course the vessel reported the same skiffs, and when it attempted to pass them, some of the skiffs approached, appearing to impede the vessel so it had to alter course again. The vessel subsequently decided to maintain its course and continued its journey without any further incidents. RED SEA: On 26 March, the Master of an oil tanker reported being pursued by six skiffs in position 13’16’’N – 042’57’’E. The number of men on board the skiffs remains unknown but it was reported that they came within less than two miles of the tanker.
RED SEA: On 23 March, five skiffs with three persons in each skiff, approached an underway chemical tanker at high speed near position 13:18 N – 042:52 E, approximately 50 nm northwest of Perim Island, Yemen. The ship’s Master raised the alarm, mustered the crew, and activated the fire pumps, while the embarked armed security team took their positions. Ladders were observed in two skiffs as they closed to a distance of 1 nm from the tanker. The security team fired one rocket flare towards the skiffs and showed their weapons resulting in the skiffs aborting their approach. RED SEA: On 17 March, a vessel reported six suspicious skiffs with several people on board. The position of the small skiffs was close to 13’12’’N – 043’04’’E. The bridge crew and the armed security team monitored the skiffs approach up to as close as 350 meters to port. Once again the security personnel showed their weapons and the skiffs continued to follow the ship until the vessels security guards then fired a warning shot causing the skiffs to move away. GULF OF ADEN: 07.03.2014: 1630 UTC: Posn: 14:20N – 053:19E. Three skiffs chased and approached a Ro-Ro ship underway. Master raised the alarm, contacted the UKMTO and broadcast a Mayday message. All nonessential crewmembers mustered in the citadel, and vessel took anti-piracy preventive measures as per BMP4. The on board armed security team fired three red flares when the skiffs closed to the ship resulting in the skiffs aborting the approach. A military helicopter and a warship came to the location to assist. OMAN: On 6 March, three suspicious white skiffs approached a merchant vessel near position 22:27.1 N – 060:29.2 E, approximately 122 nm southeast of Muscat, Oman. The skiffs with two persons onboard each skiff approached the ship to within a half mile. After self-protection measures were initiated by the crew, the skiffs moved away. RED SEA: On 3 March, pirates approached an Iranian-flagged tanker near the Bab al Mandeb Strait, in the southern Red Sea. Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told reporters that the armed pirates attempted to attack the ship twice and that Iranian Naval forces thwarted the attacks.
SOMALIA: On 3 March 14:00 at Lat -1.6 Lon 41.8 a merchant vessel was approached by 2 skiffs in vicinity of Kaambooni, Somalia. Skiffs retreated following warning shots by armed security team.
WEST AFRICA NIGERIA: On 22 March, several armed men boarded a passenger vessel near position 04:46 N - 006:01 E, approximately 30 nm northwest of Brass and robbed the passengers. The men were traveling in a speedboat boarded the vessel near Okpotuwari, in Bayelsa State. The gunmen reportedly stole cash and personal belongings from the victims and also disabled the vessel, leaving its occupants stranded. The passengers then swam to a nearby jetty and the authorities were contacted. NIGERIA: On 20 March at approximately 0130 local time, four pirates in a speedboat attacked a Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker near position 04:14 N – 005:00 E, approximately 40 nm offshore of Bayelsa State, Nigeria. The oil tanker issued a distress call, increased speed, and conducted evasive maneuvers. Reports state that the pirates aborted the attack after approximately two hours, and the tanker confirmed at 0345 local time that the attackers had failed to board the vessel. All crew are safe. NIGERIA: On 12 March at approximately 0130 local time, criminals boarded a tugboat in the Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa, northeast of Brass and kidnapped the vessel’s captain. The kidnappers and hostage subsequently disappeared into nearby creeks. NIGERIA: 06.03.2014: 1912 UTC: Posn: 04:11N – 005:44E, around 30nm of Brass. Seven pirates in a speed boat approached a drifting supply vessel and hijacked it. They took the crew as hostage and used the vessel as a mother vessel to look for other vessels to hijack. After around 20 hours when no suitable vessel was found the pirates stole the crew and ship’s properties and escaped. Some crewmen were beaten up during the hijack. NIGERIA: On 5 March, pirates boarded an underway Nigerian-flagged offshore tug southwest of Brass. Three crewmembers were reportedly taken hostage. On 7 March, Nigerian Naval forces rescued three Indian nationals kidnapped from this ship. 4/6
NIGERIA: On 4 March, armed pirates attempted to board an underway bulk carrier near position 04:00 N – 005:16 E, approximately 60 nm west-southwest of Brass. The pirates in two skiffs chased and fired upon the vessel during the attempted boarding. The vessel raised the alarm and non-essential crew mustered in the citadel. Master increased speed, took evasive maneuvers and sent SSAS alert. Due to the hardening measures taken by the Ship’s Master the pirates aborted the attempted attack and moved away. The vessel sustained damage due to bullets striking the accommodation area. NIGERIA: On 4 March at approximately 0130 local time, pirates boarded a Nigerian-flagged offshore supply vessel and kidnapping three crewmembers near position 04 17 N - 007 53 E, Bight of Bonny, off Akwa Ibom State. After the pirates departed the vessel, the remaining crewmembers sailed to the port of Onne.
SOUTHEAST ASIA ReCAAP reported three pirates’ attacks in the same area in Singapore Strait, which took place on Mar 6 and Mar 10. Alarming is the size of the vessel attacked – aframax and capesize tankers and capesize bulk carrier. On 6 Mar 14 at or about 0515, a tanker was underway off Pulau Karimun Kecil when four robbers dressed in short pants and t-shirts approached the tanker at the stern area on the starboard quarter side. Armed with knives, the robbers boarded the tanker from a fishing boat. Upon noticing the robbers, the crew sounded the alarm and proceeded to the protected area of the vessel. The robbers fled in their boat on hearing the alarm. Nothing was stolen from the tanker and the crew was not injured. On the same day at or about 0540, a tanker was underway off Pulau Karimun Kecil when five robbers armed with knives boarded the tanker and stole some engine spares. The crew was not injured. On 10 Mar 14 at or about 0150, a bulk carrier was underway south-west of Pulau Nipa in the TSS east bound when four robbers armed with knives boarded the bulk carrier from a small boat. On hearing the general alarm raised by the crew, the robbers fled without stealing anything. The crew was not injured.
Summary and recommendations:
Due rise of suspicious activity in vicinity of Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz it is highly advised to keep extreme caution and alertness within this area. The security teams are should be embarked and disembarked on Suez or Red Sea. Djibouti, one of the perferred embarkation/disembarkation spots, falls into the current danger zone and should be avoided for the engaement and disengagement with the security teams. Unfortunatley there are no good options to embark and disembark security in west of Fujairah where the latest incidents happened. Whenever feasible the vessel could keep the security team onboard for the visit to Persian Gulf. At least one incident near Iran – Pakistan border also suggest that it is not safe to travel without security by paralleling coast line.
The kidnappings of essential crew in Gulf of Guinea is likely a rising trend. There is no other good advise than to emply as good BMP4 protection as possible and contract trusted security provider. The western origing security supervisors are still the best options to ensure the adherance of the needed standards by local armed servicmen. There is no other good solution at the moment and the improvements in the threat picture, unfortunately, are not likely in forseable future. The greatest piracy and kidnapping threat remains projecting out from Nigeria.
Some experts are warning on the developing piracy trends mainly out of Indnesia. Unlike the well-armed and organized pirates of Somalia and Nigeria, most of the attacks in Indonesia were local, low level opportunistic thefts carried out by small bands of individuals. However, there is potential for such attacks to escalate into a more organized piracy model. Therefore extra caution and readiness to repel criminals should always be taken into account while passing those waters.
Sources: ICC, NATO, ONI, NGA, UKMTO, Clearwater, Oceanus Live, Shipping Position, Maritime Bulletin, Marsecreview, Reuters, CNN, BBC, NYT, Al Jazeera, All Africa, cCaptain, Hellenic Shipping News, Want China Times, DefenceWeb, New Straits Times, Sahara Reporters, IHS Maritime, Maritime Security Asia, Handy Shipping Guide etc.
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