Threat of pirate attacks
Together with the pandemic and economic crisis the world has seen an upsurge of pirate activity. From the beginning of the year, the number of attacks on ships has been increasing in Asia and a containership crew has been recently captured in Africa. Is the world prepared for the new pirate crisis?
The previous surge of pirate activity was registered during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. It was first of all driven by the activities of African (primarily Somalian) pirates. To meet the challenge different states used to send their warships to patrol the most dangerous areas, the ships were equipped with citadels, some of ships were manned with private security officers. All those measures let reduce the frequency of pirate attacks in the waters of Africa and Indian Ocean. However, the pirate activities started shifting to the Asian region – Indonesia, the Singapore Strait and other water areas.
The new global economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic caused yet another escalation of the situation with attacks on ships.
According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), a total of 29 incidents of armed robbery against ships (comprising 28 actual incidents and one attempted incident) were reported in Asia during January-March 2020 compared to 10 incidents (comprising nine actual incidents and one attempted incident) during January-March 2019. This accounts for a three-fold increase in the total number of incidents reported during January-March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The increase of incidents during January-March 2020 occurred in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore Strait. Three incidents were reported in Bangladesh during January-March 2020 compared to no incident during January-March 2019. Six incidents were reported in India during January-March 2020 compared to no incident during the same period in 2019. In Indonesia, six incidents were reported during January-March 2020 compared to three incidents during the same period in 2019. In the Philippines, four incidents were reported during January-March 2020 compared to two incidents during the same period in 2019.
Of concern was the continued increase of incidents on board ships while underway in the Singapore Strait during January-March 2020. Nine incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait during January-March 2020 compared to two incidents during the same period in 2019.
The situation of abduction of crew remains a serious concern as the risk of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah is high as demonstrated by the occurrence of an incident on 17 Jan 20 off Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia. Five of the crew abducted from the fishing trawler are still held in captivity.
Tendrils of fear come from Africa. On April 19, pirates boarded Portuguese flagged containership TOMMI RITSCHER at the anchorage of Port of Cotonou off Benin. Further reporting indicates that 11 crew members are locked in the citadel with a suspected 8 further crew members remaining outside the citadel. Crew members of the containership are reportedly to be Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Philippines nationals.
The previous case in the Gulf of Guinea was registered in February 2020 when the pirates attacked container ship Maersk Tema.
The threat of pirate attack also exists in other regions with unstable political and economic situation. For example, a tragic case happened in February 2020 in Puerto La Cruz port (Venezuela). Armed pirates murdered the captain of an oil tanker after boarding his ship while it was anchored. The ship crew were missing.
On the one hand, the world is currently more prepared for fighting the pirates as compared with the beginning of the century. Anti-pirate missions are underway, many ships have citadels, certain experience have been accumulated and there are dedicated protection bodies.
On the other hand, there are restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic: the infection is spreading among the naval crews, security services are more cautious, the global trade is declining.
Therefore, ship owners, fleet operators and crews should recognize that the threat of attacks in the waters of Africa, Asia and other unstable regions is escalating.