A multinational military presence has reduced the rate of successful hijackings, but the number of ship takeovers has increased because pirates launched many more attacks since 2009. And it has pushed the pirates away from the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa into a much wider, indefensible area for vessels targeted by pirates.A chilling warning about how the increasing ransoms paid may have increased the threat to ship crews concludes the piece.
By late this year or early 2012, Somali pirates will be targeting merchant ships off Sri Lanka and making arrangements to extend their influence east to the Straits of Malacca, said Michael Frodl, a Washington-based attorney and head of independent consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.
The continued payment of ransoms has fueled the spread of piracy, a lucrative cottage industry in a country without a functioning economy. The average ransom has reached $5.4 million, an insurance industry report said, with one payment (for release of the South Korean tanker Samho Dream in November) reaching $9.5 million, and another in April for $13.5 million (for release of the Greek-flagged tanker Irene SL, owned by First Navigation Special Maritime Enterprises).
Pirates have also changed their tactics, frequently using hijacked ships with human shields as mother ships that can operate at extended range in all weather conditions. Three years ago pirate activity tended to die down during monsoon season because the seas were too rough for small fishing dhows to operate. The bigger ships, acting as a forward base, can carry dozens of pirates and tow several small attack boats capable of multiple, simultaneous attacks.
The use of hostages onboard ships was also a reaction to military attempts to blockade Somali ports so pirates could not get to sea.
The maritime bandits are also becoming more aggressive. Gangs often send a reconnaissance boat ahead and then swarm a vessel from all sides if there is no response, or abandon the attack if armed guards appear on deck. Now, pirates retreat less often and bring in the full force, even if the first skiff takes fire, in a concerted effort to take their target, said Tom Rothrauff, head of private security firm Trident Group.
Gangs of sea robbers have also used blowtorches to open citadel rooms on ships where crews retreat for safe haven until rescuers can arrive.
Hardcore pirates with better financing, logistics and planning capabilities have their eyes on moving even further south near the island of Minicoy, according to C-Level Maritime Risks’ recent long-range forecast.
“The more aggressive, better bankrolled pirates are moving there and going to take advantage of the fact that the Indians won’t patrol outside EEZ and the Sri Lankans won’t patrol outside their territorial waters,” Frodl said in an interview.
By the end of the year the new hot spot for pirate activity will be south of India and Sri Lanka, he predicted.
“One of the concerns is that if the Indian navy is successful that the pirates will move south to points like Sri Lanka and Dondra Head and then go straight into the Straits of Malacca,” Murphy concurred. (Dondra Head is a cape at the extreme southern end of Sri Lanka.)
Multinational, NATO and European Union task forces, along with several individual nations are conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the East Coast of Somalia. As many as 30 vessels from up to 20 nations are involved in counter-piracy patrols at any given time. But there are not enough ships, helicopters and aerial surveillance drones to effectively police beyond the established security corridor in the Gulf of Aden.
The territory they have to cover is so vast that often they can’t respond in time to vessels in distress or provide escorts. And the legal mandate to arrest pirates is unclear because intent to commit piracy is not defined under international law, and not all nations have translated their right to try international crimes into domestic authorizing legislation, making it easier for naval commanders to follow a “catch-and-release” policy. Under current practice, pirates are usually tried only when they are caught red-handed assaulting a ship.
Read it all.
As I have repeatedly said here, you will get only more of what you are willing to pay for.
Somalia needs to be blockaded, as I have said for some time. I am not alone in this view, see Somali Pirates: U.S. Senator Proposes Legislation for Counter Piracy.
See also "Combatting Piracy in International Waters", Make the Somali pirates’ sea smaller…, and this, from 2008, Somali Pirates: Containment Strategy, where I wrote:
As I have frequently stated in posts on Somalia, what is needed to be done is that which no one wants to do.
No nation or collection of nations wants to "secure" Somalia and become the "owner" of the Somalia problem.
"Ownership" is what might be the result of the necessary land based effort which could put a halt to the Somali pirate raids.
But complete defeat of pirates may not be the goal. It may make sense to work to minimize the harm they can cause and work on "containing" the pirate problem.
"Containment" in this context means keeping Somali pirate interference with important sea lines of communication to an acceptable level - one in which the cost is not too high in dollars or blood. This makes economic sense, reduces the risk of death to innocent parties and justifies naval piracy patrol operations.
Containment is the alternative to taking over Somalia.
In fact, I have written about this threat so much, I don't have the time to put in enough links.
The point is that defense never wins wars. It's time to go on the offensive and go after these pirates.
It's time for some serious counter-piracy.