Piracy contained in Somalia but remains a major threat in Nigeria, says Dryad

Despite optimum conditions for piracy in Somalia, the presence of international naval patrols and armed guards on merchant ships is containing the threat but pirates remained active in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter of this year, according to a new report.

Dryad Maritime’s maritime security report for the first quarter of 2015 notes that although piracy off Northeast Africa is contained, the kidnapping of crew for ransom continues to pose a real and viable threat to mariners off Nigeria and the political and military instability in Libya is intrinsically linked to difficult and dangerous conditions for trade and shipping.

Although Somali piracy is declining, Dryad notes that in the Gulf of Guinea, kidnapping of crew for ransom remains the most significant threat to mariners in the region.

“In March 2015, eight crew were taken in three separate incidents off the shores of Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in Nigeria.

“Three mariners have since been released from captivity after being taken from MT Kalamos on 03 March, unfortunately a crewmember died by gunfire during the incident. Another five crew were kidnapped in attacks against support vessel MV Maridive 603 and floating storage tanker MT Yoho,” Dryad stated in its latest report released on Friday.

The report stated that there has been only one incident of cargo theft in the Gulf of Guinea this year when maritime criminals took a small product tanker MT Mariam off the coast of Warri on 11 January.

The Ghanaian Navy eventually detained the vessel on 17 January and eight armed pirates were arrested. The threat to product tankers of hijacking and theft of their cargo remains, Dryad cautioned.

A further incident of note was when bulk carrier MV Ocean Splendor was fired upon and boarded by eight armed pirates over 150 NM south east of Accra, Ghana on 14 Jan. Some of the crew were assaulted as the gang ransacked the ship.

Two weeks after the above incident, a large fishing vessel was hijacked 30 NM south of Takoradi, Ghana. The gang had intended to use the vessel as a mother ship from which to launch attacks against tankers, but having been pursued by maritime security vessels, they left the ship. One of the crew tragically drowned as he made his escape from the gang.

Overall, there have been 18 confirmed incidents reported during the first quarter of 2015 compared with 22 during the same period last year and records are generally consistent with the number of recorded incidents from previous years.

“We are unlikely to see any immediate relief in the maritime domain as the new president gets to grips with significant political and security challenges on land,” Dryad said of the election of Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria.

The first quarter in the Indian Ocean High Risk Area (HRA) is dominated by the Northeast Monsoon, which brings moderate winds and sea states to the northern Arabian Sea and along the east coast of Somalia, but despite 26 advisory notices being issued by UKMTO, there have been no confirmed piracy incidents in the region.

Of note, some 89% of vessel reporting incidents to UKMTO were carrying a security team, of which on 39% of the approaches fired warning shots. On no occasion were there any reports of weapons discharged from any suspect skiffs.

“There has been much recent talk of a return to illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia, with the reduction in piracy emboldening international fishing vessels to venture close to Somali shores.

“In Q1, we saw a report of two Iranian fishing vessels being arrested,” Dryad said, with the crews apparently handed over to Somali local government officials.

“The political situation ashore in Somalia has changed during the last three years and local clan leaders are much less likely to allow hijacked vessels to lay off their land. The Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) has also expanded, providing a basic form of civil governance to many areas. However, it should not be forgotten that the catalyst for Somali piracy was illegal fishing,” the report stated.

Dryad said the second quarter of the year is the best time for pirates to launch attacks, but “there is, however, no evidence to suggest a return to large-scale deployments of pirates into the open seas in 2015 with the capability of Somali pirates to conduct long-range operations severely curtailed.

“The continued presence of international navies along the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, coupled with the proliferation of armed security guards onboard merchant shipping, makes for an environment, which is not conducive to successful attempts at hijack.

“We have not seen a confirmed attack by Somali pirates in two years. Although not impossible, Dryad assess it is unlikely that this inter-monsoonal period will see any return to piracy.”

Elsewhere around Africa, Dryad noted that the extremely unstable political and military situation within Libya affects normal shipping trading operations as does the humanitarian crisis of Mediterranean migration.

The number of people attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe is up 40% on the same period last year and shows no signs of abating. “Threats to navigation and further tragedies lie in wait as traffickers act covertly and with unlit boats at night,” Dryad said in its report.

Highlighting the dangers posed to legitimate shipping in Libyan waters, and also the poor communication that often exists between government and military forces, MT Araevo was bombed off Derna by the Libyan Air Force on 4 January. During the attack, two crewmembers were killed. The Libyan Air Force claimed that the ship did not have permission to call at Derna, despite the tanker being on lease to the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC).

“The risk to foreigners ashore in Libya remains high throughout the country, with visiting workers in danger of inadvertently being caught up in the heavy fighting ashore, as well as facing the threat of kidnap. These conditions mean that vessel crews should not leave the confines of any terminals or ports,” Dryad said.

Elsewhere in the world, Southeast Asia remains a piracy hotspot, although there has been a reduction in incidents from 75 in Q4 2014 to 56 in Q1 2015. “In Southeast Asia, despite a continued reduction in crime in certain Indonesian port and anchorage areas, Dryad predicts that further hijackings for cargo theft in the South China Sea and Singapore Strait, unless we see more effective intervention from regional security forces.”

Incident numbers in the waters of South America and the Caribbean are significantly up – from 2 to 13 when comparing

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