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Bad weather, navy hunt deters Somali pirates

Monday, June 25, 2012
By Derek Baldwin

Delegates discuss ways to stem piracy impact on region

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Dubai: Six days ago on the high seas 13 kilometres east of Masirah, Oman, Somali pirates attacked a commercial dhow, boarded her and took a terrified seven-man crew hostage at gunpoint.

On the same day of June 20 only a few hours later, Somali pirates in a dhow — possibly the same one that just been hijacked — appeared 35 kilometres northeast of Masirah Island, Oman, and confronted an LNG tanker with guns blazing, according to the ICC International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre.

“Pirates were armed with RPG [rocket-propelled grenades]. The dhow closed in to 50 metres from the ship and fired shots from their guns, of which, three hit the vessel. The captain enforced anti-piracy measures and managed to evade boarding,” the IMB reported.

The incidents were anything but isolated.

On June 18, in the Gulf of Aden, six skiffs with up to six pirates in each were observed approaching on the starboard bow of a bulk carrier steaming at 25 knots. The carrier increased its speed and issued a distress call that she was under attack.

According to the IMB reporting centre, the skiffs attempted to get near enough for the pirates to board as a security team aboard the bulk carrier “fired eight warning flares” to no avail.

“After nearly 40 minutes, the security team fired six warning shots and the pirates aborted and moved away. A naval ship came for assistance,” IMB reported.

The rash of three Somali pirate attacks within the last eight days in Arabian Peninsula waters is proof positive that piracy is still being waged by high-seas marauders posing a risk to seafarers’ lives as well as bringing misfortune to shipping companies’ bottom lines.

An Oceans Beyond Piracy report last year estimated that piracy costs $7 billion to $12 billion per year.

But new statistics suggest that the number of incidents against international shipping vessels appear to be waning this year thanks to a number of factors, including stepped up globally-coordinated military patrols by Nato and EU Naval Force.

Statistics by EUNAVOR last updated June 18, 2012, show that so far this year there were 30 recorded piracy incidents off Somalia, of which, 25 were classified as attacks and a further five leading to a ship being pirated or hijacked.

By comparison, in all of 2011, there were 176 incidents reported to EUNAVFOR, with 25 confirmed hijackings of ships and a further 151 attacks.

The number of hostages has dropped from more than 1,200 last year to 235 still being held by Somali captors this year.

While the prevalence rate of attacks appears to be declining, UAE Foreign Affairs and DP World are not convinced that the plague on regional waters is lifting any time soon, a conviction that has led to both entities hosting the second International Counter Piracy Conference in Dubai this Wednesday and Thursday.

The UAE-sponsored conference, said organisers, is “a regional response to maritime piracy, enhancing public-private partnerships and strengthening global engagement.”

The conference will be kicked off on Wednesday by Minister of Foreigner Affairs Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al Nahyan and DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmad bin Sulayem.

As the number of incidents decline, observers are painfully aware that at any time the situation may reverse itself leading to increased ocean attacks once again.

In an interview on Monday from the United Kingdom on Sunday, Lt Cdr Jacqueline Sherriff, EUNAVFOR spokesperson, told Gulf News that combined military efforts are having their effect.
But now is not the time to rest on laurels, she said.

“We are deterring them, yes we are,” Sherriff said, confirming that “piracy incidents are down. But we must remember this is irreversible, piracy has not gone away. We shouldn’t be complacent.”

The combined military efforts by countries from around the world will continue to conduct intelligent tasking “in areas where we believe it will be most effective,” she said.

Part of the success in sweeping patrols across the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, she said, is that raids upon pirates by navy vessels assisted by helicopters and elite military squads are culminating in the prosecution of pirates in the UAE and throughout Europe.

In May, 10 Somali pirates were sentenced by UAE Federal Court to life imprisonment for their hijacking of the 37,000-tonne bulk carrier MV Arrilah on April 1, 2011 while en route to Jebel Ali Port in Dubai from Australia.
Owned by Abu Dhabi National Tanker Company and National Gas Shipping Company, the ship was liberated in a daring high-seas raid by UAE armed forces and anti-terrorism unit commandos, believed to be one of the first operations to take back a ship from pirates in the region.

Bold responses such as the UAE’s military response last year send a strong message to would-be attackers.
“The EUNAVOR always seeks a legal finish,” Sherriff said. “These pirates do not have impunity, there is a consequence. News of the prosecutions will very quickly get to them. I would like to think it may have a deterrent effect.”

Sherriff said other factors such as bad weather so far this year have hampered pirates’ efforts to conduct raids on ships passing offshore.

According to an update by Somalia Report, a pirate based in Handulle – where EU forces launched a beach raid on a pirate camp in May of this year – said that lack of investment and bad weather have severely curtailed piracy operations.

She also noted that since no new vessels and crew being held for ransom have been released, pirate coffers are running empty leaving few dollars to launch sea raids.

With fewer successful missions completed, investors who also bankroll some of the Somali pirate missions are not sinking money into operations.

Sherriff said “because they’re not having success, it’s having a knock-on effect on the number of investors.”


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