Philippine Sea

Friday, May 09, 2008

Questions & Answers

I sometimes get email regarding pirates. Here's an example:
I am in the process of researching an article on piracy on the high seas and have questions pertaining to the following areas:
- most vulnerable areas for attack
- statistical trends during this decade - percentages of increases/decreases in attacks
- types of attacks and tactics employed
- thwarted operations
- ties to jihadists or terrorist entities (recent report (4/26/08) in Al Qaeda's e-journal, Jihad Press, urging the mujahideen to establish naval terror cells, especially in the Horn of Africa, to gain control over the seas and sea passages)
- security measures/interventions
- recent order by UK Foreign Office to Royal Navy not to arrest pirates as this is a violation of their human rights.

I would very much appreciate the opportunity to communicate with you about this topic.
I'm glad to answer such questions:
That's quite a series of questions. Let's see about some answers.

First, piracy on the "high seas" is pretty rare. UNCLOS has a specific definition of high seas: "all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State." (UNCLOS Article 86). Most of what is defined as piracy today happens in the territorial waters of a state, especially in anchorages and roadsteads. In some cases attacks are made on ships transiting straits that lie partially in the territorial water of several states (Strait of Malacca for example). Technically, attack in territorial waters are not piracy, but "sea robbery."

a) The most vulnerable areas of attack seem to be straits and narrows for ships not at anchor. This probably due to the shorter distances the attackers have to travel in small boats and to the fairly constant supply of prospective targets. On the high seas off Somalia, there are reports of "mother ships" being used by pirates.
b) Statistical trend? The ICC Commercial Crimes Services people have stats on their website. The trend, in my view, has been a decrease in some areas while Somalia and Nigeria have picked up. Most of these increases are not "high seas" piracy.
c) Thwarted ops. Always hard to measure, but the increased cooperation in the Malacca area has slowed attacks. The ICC CCS reports weekly on reported attacks and there are frequent mentions of pirates being turned away by alert crews. The Seaborne Spirit cruise ship attack was stopped by a brave crew and a high tech device. The escorting of World Food Program ships off Somalia has apparently completely stopped their hijacking, which used to be quite regular.
d) Links to terrorists - that's the question isn't it? Piracy as practiced today can be political (Nigeria in some instances) but mostly seems to be a revenue raiser. AQ's statement may be mostly propaganda and relates more to attacks on ships for the purpose of damaging them than to robbing ships or holding them and their crews for ransom.
e) Security measures. Some high tech additions to ships (Seaborne Spirit) but mostly situational awareness by crews, using escort vessels and traveling in loose convoys. Of course, the best preventative is avoiding the areas where pirates operate. In the Gulf of Aden, some international warships may have prevented attacks by their presence and by their actions (a German warship recently intervened in an incident). Some of the issue with intervention is being in the right place at the right time.
f) The recent UK order. Made me laugh.

Let me know if this helps.
By the way, the latest ICC Weekly Piracy Report (to 5 May 08) is here. Highlights:
01.05.2008: 1605 UTC: 14:51.9N – 054:14.8E: Gulf of Aden.
Two speedboats crossed the bow of a bulk carrier underway. Alarm raised, crew mustered and evasive manoeuvres commenced. Both boats stopped for a while and then resumed chasing the vessel. Master contacted the coalition warship on VHF Ch. 16/72. The coalition warship crossed the ships stern and informed the master to continue on her passage, as there were no speedboats visible
***
30.04.2008: 2330 LT: Posn 02:22N – 104:24E, Malaysia. Six pirates, in a speedboat, armed with long knives and wearing masks boarded a tug towing a barge underway. Pirates entered the accommodation, stole personal and ship’s properties, and escaped. No injuries to crew.
***
28.04.2008: 2203 LT: Posn 14:15.5N - 050:11.8E, Gulf of Aden. A bulk carrier underway observed on radar three speedboats approaching at high speed. Alarm raised and anti piracy measures activated. All accommodation lights and navigations lights switched off. The boats continued to follow and slowly closed onto the vessel. Finally, to deter the pirates the chief officer threw wooden pallets and old garbage drums overboard in the path of the boats. This caused the boats to suddenly stop and abort the chase.

28.04.2008: 1110 UTC: Posn 12:38N – 049:43E, Gulf of Aden.Pirates, in two speedboats, fired upon a bulk carrier underway using machine guns and RPG in an attempt to board the vessel. The master increased speed and carried out evasive manoeuvres. Due to the actions of the master and the high freeboard, the pirates were unable to board the vessel. The Piracy Reporting Centre informed the Coalition forces. A military aircraft dispatched. The boats moved away.
***
25.04.2008: 0020 LT: Posn 01:31N – 104:24.5E, Malaysia. Six pirates armed with guns boarded a tanker underway. Pirates ordered the master to reduce speed. They checked the type of cargo the vessel was carrying. The pirates stole personal effects of crew before escaping.
And the latest ONI Worldwide Threats to Shipping Report (to 30 Apr 08) can be found here. Highlights:
8. NIGERIA: Nigerian rebels claim attack on major Shell pipeline 18 Apr 08, Adamakiri, Rivers state. Rebels in Niger’s oil producing Niger Delta claimed to have sabotaged
a major pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell, however the claim cannot be confirmed. A statement from the MEND said it attacked the Shell pipeline, which crosses from the Cawthorne Channel to the Bonny terminal, at Adamakiri in Rivers state. The group stated that they are stepping up their attacks and there will be many more attacks to follow. MEND also announced that in September it would recommence attacks on oil installations and abduction of expatriates following the arrest of one of its leaders, Henry Okah, on arms trafficking charges in Angola
(RETUERS).
***
4. SOMALIA: Cargo Dhow (AL-KHALEEJ) hijacked, rescued, pirates apprehended
21 Apr 08, approximately 5NM off Port Bossaso. The vessel was sailing from Dubai, UAE to Bossaso when seven pirates posing as thirsty fishermen came alongside the vessel asking for drinking water. Three of the pirates were allowed onto the vessel and then suddenly the other four, who were armed, boarded the vessel. They ordered the captain to change course and travelled between Al Mukalla, Yemen, and Dubai, according to a crewmember on the vessel. The vessel was carrying 16 Pakistani crewmembers. On the morning of 22 Apr 08, a score of security officers from the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland stormed the ship, carrying many troops on two speedboats, and engaged the pirates in a gun battle for approximately one hour. Three of the pirates were injured before they all surrendered. The vessel was rescued before the pirates could make a ransom demand (EUTERS, AP, LM: khaleejtimes.com).
***
8. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (AFRICA IBIS) reported suspicious approach, 22 Apr 08. The vessel called for help in warding off a group of five speedboats which were approaching the vessel. The Italian Navy supply vessel (ETNA), was sailing with the patrol vessel (COMANDANTE BORSINI) as part of a marine surveillance operation in the area. At a distance of 70NM from the threatened ship, a helicopter was immediately dispatched to its aid. The helicopter appears to have deterred the presumed pirates, allowing the vessel to proceed on its way to Mangalore, India (LL, LM: Turin La Stampa).
.
9. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker (NEVERLAND) reported suspicious approach, per 23 Apr 08 reporting. A flotilla of speedboats approached the vessel with reportedly malign intent but was warned off by the Italian Navy patrol vessel (COMANDANTE BORSINI) (LL, LM: Turin La Stampa).
***
11. GULF OF ADEN: VLCC tanker (TAKAYAMA) fired upon 21 Apr 08 at 0110 UTC
(reported by IMB), 0230 UTC (reported by operator), while underway in position 13:00N-049:07E, approximately 240NM east of Port of Aden, Yemen. Five speedboats chased and opened fire at the vessel, in ballast, proceeding to Yanbo, Saudi Arabia. The vessel increased its speed and enforced anti-piracy preventative measures. A rocket was shot at the vessel, damaging its hull. Crewmembers on board have confirmed the existence of a 20-millimeter hole on the port side near the stern of the ship. The master sent out a radio distress call and was received by the German warship (EMDEN) who headed straight to the scene with a helicopter to intercept
the pirates. By the time the helicopter arrived, the pirates had fled in their speedboats. Yemeni coast guard forces also claimed a role in helping. There were no injuries to the crew of 23 and the vessel arrived at Port of Aden on 22 Apr 08 at 0330 local time (IMB, Operator, AFP, LL, LM: Yemen News Agency, nytimes, Deutsche Welte).
***
32. SRI LANKA: Sea battle between Sri Lankan army and LTTE 09 Apr 08 at
approximately 1020 local time, Ariyalai point, Jaffna. Armored tanks deployed after observing the presence of about seven LTTE boats in the area. It is believed that the terrorist boats were on a reconnaissance mission, possibly loaded with explosives. The boats were shot at with 100mm fire rounds causing an explosion. Less than an hour later, troops detected one more LTTE boat in the Jaffna lagoon area at about 1120 local time and used heavy fire on it. However, the troops restrained from further firing as the LTTE boat entered a fishing boat area. At least two LTTE
terrorists died during the attacks and one solider received injuries (LM: army.lk).
***
4. INDONESIA: Chemical tanker (UBT BAY) boarded, robbed 17 Apr 08 at 0155 local time while awaiting berth in position 03:56.31N-098:46.14E, Belawan Anchorage. Four robbers armed with knives boarded the vessel at the forward part of the ship from a small boat. An ordinary seaman (O/S) on piracy watch immediately alerted the bridge through walkie talkie when he sighted the robbers at the forecastle. Two of the robbers attacked him with a piece of wood and knives. The O/S was slashed on his arm and back with a knife. Upon receiving the alert, the Officer of the Watch immediately raised the general alarm, announced over the P.A. system and sounded the ship’s horn. Upon hearing the alarm, the robbers escaped by jumping into the sea. The crew mustered immediately on the bridge and a security search was conducted.
A fire axe and a crowbar were found missing from the forecastle store. The O/S suffered deep cuts, he was sent to a local hospital for medical treatment (ReCAAP ISC).
***
It's a dangerous world.

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