Horn of Africa Piracy – 09.03.2011
Horn of Africa Piracy
Piracy off the Horn of Africa is regional activity with a global impact. It affects freedom of the seas, influences maritime trade, and no ship is immune to the attacks. The nature of this problem has elicited international response and involvement.
Current operations to combat piracy include the deployment of a multi-national naval force with the intent of escorting merchant vessels through transit lanes, interdicting actual pirate attacks before they turn into hostage situations, and protecting World Food Program shipments. There are approximately 16 countries providing a naval presence as of this writing.
Efforts in combating piracy include discovering key players in piracy facilitation, advising mariners when and where piracy events happen, and helping the maritime industry develop best practices for piracy avoidance.
From 2005 to 2007 (three years), there were a total of 145 pirate events. There were 67 attempted and 78 successful hijackings. It was during this period the pirate activity shifted from territorial to international waters.
From 2008 to July of 2009 (only eighteen months), there were 203 pirate events, predominantly located in the Gulf of Aden but expanding far from shore into the Indian Ocean. During this period, the amount of ransoms paid have been eight times higher than the totals from 2005-2007, with over $60 million paid.
Pirate activity is also dependent upon the weather and factors ashore. For instance, during the second half of 2006, pirate activity abated while the Council of Islamic Courts was in control. Monsoon activity seems to also dampen the pirate activity.
From the bigger picture, however, piracy affects less than 1% of the overall Gulf of Aden traffic and does not result in a significant diversion of trade. This means the threat of a pirate attack against an individual ship is low – but in the unlucky event of being hijacked, the impact of the event is very high.
These trends indicate piracy is on the rise and spreading as the symptom of a failed state. Rewards will continue to outweigh risks until Somalia is stable.
High Risk Vessels
While all vessels face the risk of attack, high risk vessels are more prone to boarding. A vessel at high risk is one that:
- Has a maximum speed less than 15 knots
- Has hook points (points to which grappling hooks can be thrown) lower than 6 meters from the waterline
- Conducts a daytime transit
- Has a complacent (non-vigilant) crew
- Takes no defensive measures
Eleven Greek owned vessels have been hijacked since 2005. The average service speed of those ships is 14 knots – only 2 vessels had a service speed over 15 knots. Only one of those hijackings occurred at night, and that was with 86% illumination. There is no indication that pirates are targeting Greek owned vessels specifically.
With the end of the summer monsoon season, pirate attacks are increasing. Continued ransom payments provide a high level of reward, while the unstable shore environment presents little risk. Piracy is a complex and enduring problem, but one that international pressure and cooperation between both military and civilian vessels can overcome.