Even with maritime piracy at a 21-year low, experts are warning of a potential resurgence in East Africa among other risks.
“Suddenly, the opportunity is improving,” anti-piracy expert John Steed said about Somali piracy. “No one has tried it yet, but the potential is there for it to come back.”
The last wave of Somalia piracy peaked in 2011 with 176 attacks. It declined to almost nothing by 2015, thanks to an increased foreign naval presence and industry precautions like posting armed guards, moving faster, and following certain routes when passing through the area. At the end of last year, the industry issued new recommendations that reduced the size of the danger zone.
Heading into 2016, however, IHS Inc. said Somali piracy was a major risk thanks to instability and unrest in the region.
“The two conditions that led regional politicians to [support pirates], namely a lack of alternative economic opportunities and a threat to their control of their territory, are currently being recreated in the Galmudug region of central Somalia,” the risk consultancy warned.
Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) also warned of a piracy “reset” in its mid-year report. Steed, the non-profit’s regional manager for the Horn of Africa, walked us through some risk factors.
— “Naval forces are getting [drawn away]. There’s a great deal of work for them to do, particularly with the migration problems and the issues higher up the Horn [of Africa] …. The days of the European naval force may be coming to an end.”
— “Ships’ captains are under pressure from the companies to go slower and in some cases closer to the coast.”
— “No one has helped build the Somalis a decent coast guard or maritime police …. In the main part of Somalia and all down the east coast, there is no real Somali seagoing capability.”
— “[Somalis] see these big international trawlers, as they see it, stealing their fish, and that breeds animosity amongst and support for the pirates who go out and sometimes capture fishing boats.”
Also mentioned in the OBP report:
— As 2015 progressed, private security teams were used less and less frequently by ships in the area, and when they were used, shipping companies increasingly opted for smaller and cheaper teams.
Globally, another reason to worry about piracy is the increasing use of kidnapping.
Southeast Asian pirates “have altered their tactics to take advantage of the high ransoms that they can receive from kidnapping crew,” risk consultancy GardaWorld wrote in a recent report. That region has seen 12 maritime kidnap incidents in 2016 compared to zero in 2015.
West Africa has seen a similar trend. “Kidnap for ransom has increased significantly in the waters off Nigeria, with hijacks for product theft now comparatively rare,” GardaWorld wrote.
Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau, called this a “disturbing” shift.
East Africa, too, is seeing the same trend. The number of seafarers taken hostage in the area climbed from 17 in 2014 to 108 in 2015, according to OBP.
Currently, there are at least 36 seafarers being held hostage in Somalia. Twenty-six of them, the crew of NAHAM 3, have been held there for nearly five years.
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