West Africa Is Becoming The World’s New Piracy Hotspot

Amid growing fears of a military clash between the United States and Iran, the strategic Strait of Hormuz has swiftly become one of the most dangerous regions on the planet for commercial shipping. Following alleged attacks on two tankers by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps last week, the U.S. and Iran have confirmed the shooting down of a sophisticated American surveillance drone worth an estimated $130 million. As tensions soared in the Persian Gulf this week, a report about a growing threat to shipping in another part of the world largely flew under the radar.

One Earth Future released its ninth annual State of Maritime Piracy report on Monday which shows incidents of hijacking, kidnapping, robberies and boarding attempts in different maritime regions. While East African shipping routes near Somalia used to be notorious for pirates, the number of incidents has fallen dramatically in recent years, primarily due to a series of effective international naval operations. In 2017, East Africa experienced 54 incidents of piracy or robbery and that fell to just nine last year. The Malacca Strait also gained a reputation for maritime hijackings and extortion but steady progress is also being made there. 199 attacks were recorded across Asia in 2015 and that fell to 98 by 2018.

Meanwhile, West Africa is becoming the world’s new piracy hotspot with 54 incidents occurring in 2015, 95 in 2016, 97 in 2017 and a worrying 112 in 2018. The increase has occurred for a number of reasons including poverty, political instability, a lack of proper law enforcement and a long list of lucrative targets. The last point is true of Nigeria which experienced the most attacks due to an increase in “petro-piracy” which has targeted vessels involved in oil and gas transportation. Another simple reason for West Africa’s rise is the downward trend in other regions, particularly East Africa and Asia.



Four arrested after attempting to rob tanker off Malaysia

In its weekly report for 18-24 June, the ReCAAP ISC informed of one incident of armed robbery against the tanker ‘M.T. Ponier’, while anchored in Teluk Ramunia waters, off Pengerang, Malaysia.

A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) patrol team was on patrol in the early morning hours of 16 June, approximately 2.9 nm south of Teluk Ramunia.

This is when they sighted two wooden boats, both named Lima Sore, secured to M.T. Ponier that was anchored on the scene.

Suspecting that something was amiss, the MMEA team conducted checks and found four perpetrators who attempted to steal items from the tanker, including scrap metal.

All four perpetrators were arrested. However, two of the four perpetrators escaped by jumping overboard when one of the MMEA patrol boats broke down on the way back to the MMEA maritime base in Tanjung Pengelih, Malaysia.

The two perpetrators were later arrested in Pulau Batam, Indonesia by the Indonesian authorities.

Location of the incident is shown herebelow:

This comes only a few days after ten fishermen were kidnapped from two vessels off Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. The ReCAAP ISC report informed that nine of the ten crew were released, while one remains missing.



Abduction off Malaysia: Nine crew released, one still missing

Nine out of the ten fishermen who were kidnapped in Malaysian waters last week are reportedly free, while one of them is still missing, according to data provided by the ReCAAP ISC.

Two Malaysian-flagged fishing vessels were in the waters off Lahad Datu’s Tambisan area and heading towards the town of Semporna, when they were hijacked by gunmen in speedboats, suspected to be linked to terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, at 0245 hours of 18 June, local media report.

Accordingly, the perpetrators have taken four of the six crew members in the first fishing boat and six of the 10 crew members in the second boat.

On 21 June at about 2200 hrs, elements of the maritime police station were on mobile patrol at Bgy Kahawa, Talipao, Sulu and they sighted a group of nine men walking along the road.

“After interviewing the men, they were confirmed to be the abducted crew who were released by their abductors who could have realised that the abducted crew had no money nor anything to give as ransom,”

…ReCAAP ISC said.

The nine men were brought to Talipao for custody and debrief. One of the abducted crew is still missing.

This is the first abduction of crew incident reported in 2019. The last incident of abduction of crew occurred on 5 December 2018.

This attack reportedly included the second highest number of hostages since the 2000 Sipadan kidnapping of 21 Malaysians and foreigners.

“As the risk of the abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah is high as demonstrated by the abduction of 10 crew on 18 Jun 19, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advisory issued via the ReCAAP ISC Incident Alert dated 21 Nov 16 to all ships to reroute from the area, where possible. Otherwise, ship masters and crew are strongly urged to exercise extra vigilance while transiting the area, and report immediately to the Operation Centres of Philippines and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia.”



U.S. Launches Maritime Security Initiative for Strait of Hormuz

The United States is launching a new maritime security initiative for the Persian Gulf region to counter the threat of Iranian attacks on shipping, a State Department official told reporters Monday. During previous regional conflicts, the U.S. Navy has periodically provided escorts for merchant shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, but this effort would be multilateral, according to the official.

The new program, called Sentinel, would be implemented with both material assets and monetary contributions from participating nations. The participants have not yet been named, but the official said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would seek the support of Saudi Arabia on Monday during a visit to Jeddah.

Sentinel would involve providing onboard security cameras for ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz, in addition to military patrols and escorts, according to the Washington Post. “It’s not about shooting at people,” the official said. “It’s about shooting pictures of Iranians.”

The United States alleges that Iran was responsible for two recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, one off Fujairah on May 12 and a second in the Iranian area of responsibility on June 13. The U.S. has provided photographic evidence of Iranian movements after the time of the second attack, but not prior to or during the incident. Iran denies any involvement.

In an independent, previously-announced move, New Delhi has dispatched two warships to the Persian Gulf to provide security for Indian vessels in the region. In addition, the Indian Navy is providing embarked security teams for Indian tankers with small ship-riding squads consisting of one officer and two enlisted sailors each. The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) crude tanker Desh Vishal was the first to benefit from an onboard Indian Navy security team during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday.

“Indian-flagged crude and petroleum product tanker owners can either allow naval personnel to board the vessel or they can request the navy to carry out inspection of the ship,” an Indian government official told Hindu Business Line. “It is an option for the tanker owners, but we are hoping that they will all agree.”

On Monday, in retaliation for the recent Iranian attack on an American drone, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the United States will impose new sanctions on top Iranian leadership, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Analysts suggest the measure is largely symbolic, as sweeping U.S. sanctions already affect virtually all international transactions with Iranian financial institutions.

“Sanctions imposed through the executive order that I’m about to sign will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s Office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support. The assets of Ayatollah Khamenei and his office will not be spared from the sanctions,” President Trump said. “These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions.”

Source: The Maritime Executive


IMO Warns Shipping Industry of Fake Piracy Reports

The International Maritime Organization warns that alerts being issued from the email account of the Regional Maritime Information Sharing Centre (REMISC) in Sana’a, Yemen (infoex@remisc.org) are not legitimate.

Given the current situation in Yemen, which is in the midst of a civil war, the center has not been able to provide updated piracy incident information and has stopped its activities. IMO has supported REMISC since its establishment, but says that it has no oversight of its current operations.

REMISC – together with the Mombasa and Dar es Salaam Information Sharing Centres (ISC) – is part of the information sharing network established under the Djibouti Code of Conduct framework, which became operational in 2011. The network is used to exchange information on piracy incidents across the region and other relevant information to help shipping and signatory States to take action to mitigate piracy threats.

Up-to-date sources of official information on piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean include EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta and the ICC IMB’s live piracy report.

Source: The Maritime Executive


Kenya to chair group to tackle piracy off Somalia

Kenya has been chosen to chair the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) for two years starting on January 2020. Kenya will now be able to coordinate regional and international efforts to address piracy which remains a danger to the Maritime sector.

Speaking on the occasion, Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo noted that Kenya will collaborate with all member states and stakeholders to make sure that efforts of the international community to tackle piracy through better maritime surveillance, patrols and monitoring and capacity building remain agile and effective.

She also added that Kenya will attempt to improve information sharing amongst all stakeholders.

This development comes at a time of a diplomatic standoff between Kenya and Somalia, regarding the oil fields in Indian Ocean. Namely, local sources report that the Arab Parliament warned Kenya not to meddle in matters of Somalia especially interfering with its territorial boundary.

It specifically accused Kenya of trying to establish a new map to win over the territorial grounds.



Tanker Owners Boost Security After Attacks On Tankers in Gulf

A series of attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Iran — and raised fears over the safety of one of Asia’s most vital energy trade routes, where about a fifth of the world’s oil passes through its narrowest at the Strait of Hormuz.

The attacks have jolted the shipping industry, with some of the 2,000 companies operating ships in the region on high alert and ordering their vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz only during the daylight hours and at high speed.

Washington’s accusation that Iran is behind the attacks targeting oil tankers comes as tensions flare between the two countries. The U.S. has deployed an airstrike carrier and bombers to the region, and announced this week it will send 1,000 more troops. European powers are facing a deadline from Tehran to ease the effects of punishing U.S. sanctions — described by its leaders as “economic warfare” — or Iran will break out of the limits set on its uranium enrichment by the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

The apparent targeting of tankers is alarming to ship owners operating in the Persian Gulf, said chief shipping analyst at BIMCO, Peter Sand. The company dubs itself the world’s largest shipping association.

But it’s more or less business as usual for shippers, he said, despite the need for added precautions.

“They are all of course increasingly worried, but many of them are going with business as they would have done without the attacks, but of course with an extra layer of safety and security measures on top of that,” Sand said.

That means going at high speed through the Strait of Hormuz, which at its narrowest point is about 3 kilometers (2 miles) wide. Normally, vessels carrying cargo would slow down to save on fuel costs.

It also means avoiding the strait at night to keep better watch on security around the vessel.

Washington alleges Iranian forces surreptitiously planted limpet mines on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman last week. The attack forced the evacuation of all 44 crewmembers onboard and left one of the ships ablaze at sea.

Washington also blamed Iran for similar attacks on May 12 that targeted four oil tankers anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran denies being involved.

The attacks last week targeted the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair, which had a cargo of highly flammable naphtha loaded from the UAE, and the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese tanker carrying Saudi methanol. Both had been traveling through the Gulf of Oman, having passed the Strait of Hormuz.

Of the roughly 2,000 companies that operate ships in the Persian Gulf, only two companies have halted bookings outright. Otherwise, “business has continued more or less undisrupted,” Sand said.

In fact, higher risks could boost the bottom line for some oil shippers, after a lackluster period for the industry. A risk analysis by shipping services company Braemar ACM said owners can ask for higher premiums now. The firm said the Gulf region was declared as a “Listed Area”, meaning it faces enhanced risk, after the May 12 incidents targeting tankers off the UAE coast.

Immediately after last week’s attacks, freight rates for operators in the Gulf rose 10-20%.

With increased risks, however, come higher insurance premiums, which are expected to rise 10-15%.

It’s typically the buyers and charterers who bear the brunt of the overall higher costs, another reason why security of the Strait of Hormuz is paramount for oil-importers around the world. An estimated 18-20 million barrels of oil — much of it crude — pass through the strait every day. BIMCO says anywhere between 10-40 vessels carrying just crude oil move through daily.

During the so-called Tanker War of the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq targeted vessels carrying one another’s exports, the U.S. Navy escorted oil tankers through the Persian Gulf to ensure American energy supplies. But the U.S. is no longer as reliant on Arabian producers.

Today, any conflict that threatens tankers would badly disrupt crude supplies for energy-hungry East Asia. Higher prices could hit hardest China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia — among the five biggest buyers of Arabian oil.

Indeed, the MT Front Altair was headed to Japan; the Kokuka Courgaeous reportedly to Singapore.

The Washington Post quoted this week Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that because most of the oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz is headed to Asian markets, it would be ill-advised for the U.S. military to take the same role it did in the 1980s. He said there were plans to reach out to the big Asian oil-importers about a possible international effort to safeguard tanker traffic.

Robert Macleod, CEO of Frontline Management, whose vessel Front Altair was targeted last week, said the general area of the Strait of Hormuz “represents a real and very serious risk to shipping.”

In a statement, he said crews must be on high alert while traversing through the passage. The company, however, said it had re-commenced trading in the region after briefly halting it following the attack. He said the company also tightened security measures, but did not elaborate.

One extraordinary measure ship owners might consider, if the situation deteriorates further, is having armed guards onboard. This is already the case for many vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, where piracy is a major concern.

“From a shipping industry perspective, we are certainly not in favor of bringing more armed guards onboard international commercial ships because they are not warships,” said Sand. “They should not be carrying arms. They should be able to transit without being interrupted.”



India Bans Its Seafarers from Nigeria, Gulf of Guinea Due to Piracy Risk

The Directorate General of Shipping in India has banned Indian seafarers from working in vessels in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, due to the increasing risk of piracy and kidnapping.

This may affect shipping between Nigeria and India. India is now Nigeria’s largest trading partner, buying at least 30 percent of Nigeria’s crude oil. The import is worth over $10billion yearly. In return, Nigeria also buys a number of manufactured goods from India.

Media reports indicate that a circular from the Directorate-General of Shipping in India was sent to all ship owners and shipping companies, warning not to engage any Indian seafarers on coastal vessels trading solely within the ports of Gulf of Guinea – including Benin, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The circular read : “For the attention of shipowners, ship managers, shipping agents, RPSL agents, ship masters, seafarers, charterers, shipbuilders, Ship Breakers Association, Classification Societies recognised by Directorate General of Shipping, non-exclusive survey companies, insurance companies, coastal state including administrations of union territories/islands and Maritime Boards.

“Piracy/armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are becoming more violent with a greater tendency to attack, hijack and rob vessels as well as kidnap crew, in the waters of Gulf of Guinea.

“These attacks having also been reported up to 170 nautical miles from the coast. In many of these incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, pirates have hijacked the vessel for several days, ransacked the vessel and stolen part cargo (usually gas oil). Additionally, in these past attacks, ships’ crew members have also been injured, kidnapped and in certain occasions taken ashore for ransom.

“As per International Maritime Organisation promulgated reports of attempted attacks by pirates and armed robbers via the Global Integrated Shipping Information System, the sum total of the number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery in West Africa, as reported to IMO in the 10-year period from January 1, 2009, to December 31, 2018, was 555.”

“The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in West Africa as per GISIS covering the period 1 January to 31 December 2018 was 81 and reflected a comparable increase from 49 incidents reported in 2017. During these 10 years, 2018 also showed the highest in the number of episodes, with three ships reportedly hijacked and 86 crew held hostage in that year.

Accordingly, all RPSL agents are instructed to not engage any Indian seafarers on coastal vessels trading solely within the ports in Gulf of Guinea (i.e. Benin, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea). All concerned stakeholders are also advised to take note of the information provided in this advisory and act accordingly.”

Some piracy incidents targeted at Indians:

  • In February 2018:  An oil tanker with 22 Indians on board was hijacked by pirates. However, all crew members were safe after four days and the ship, Merchant Ship Marine Express, resumed sailing.
  • In April 2019, pirates attacked MV APECUS,  a Palau-flagged vessel at anchor off Bonny Island in Nigeria and kidnapped six crew members. Three of the kidnapped men were Indians. They were later released after ransom paid.

Source: Maritime Security Review


Piracy in West Africa: The world’s most dangerous seas?

The seas off West Africa’s oil-rich coastline are now the most dangerous in the world for shipping, according to a new report.

One Earth Future, which produces an annual State of Maritime Piracy, says that while attacks have been falling substantially in some regions of the world, in West Africa they’ve been on the rise and are now more frequent than anywhere else.

So why the increase in West Africa, and what shipping is being targeted?

What is piracy?
A strict definition of maritime piracy only includes attacks on shipping on the high seas – that is, more than 12 nautical miles off the coastline and not under the jurisdiction of any state.

Inside a country’s territorial waters and within port facilities, these attacks are defined as armed robberies at sea.

However, the data we’ve used from this latest report combines these two sets of data to give an overall picture of incidents at sea both inshore and offshore.

In 2018, there were 112 such incidents in West African waters.

It’s not just the huge tankers exporting oil and gas from Nigeria and Ghana that are targeted.

Commercial ships from smaller countries are also in the sights of the pirates.

At a recent event in London, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo – a country sandwiched between these two regional giants – highlighted his own concerns at the rise in attacks on regional shipping.

“Our region is distinguished by the resurgence of transnational criminality on the high seas in the Gulf of Guinea,” said Mr Gnassingbé.

Why are attacks rising?
Most of the attacks have been against ships involved in oil and gas transportation, such as tankers, bulk carriers and tugs. Fishing vessels have also been targeted.

The coastline off Nigeria saw the most attacks in 2018. This is partly because of “petro-piracy”, targeting tankers from Nigeria’s rich oil and gas fields.

There were also incidents reported at the loading and anchorage facilities in the Nigerian port of Lagos.

Piracy in the form of hijacking and kidnapping for ransom payments was also common off the coasts of Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon.

Rich pickings at sea, political instability, the lack of law enforcement and poverty on land are all factors which have contributed to the increase in piracy.

Most of the seafarers affected are not from the region. Around half are from the Philippines, followed by India, Ukraine and Nigeria.

One of the reasons West Africa is now the number one spot for piracy is because of the downward trends recorded elsewhere.

The East African shipping routes along the Somali coastline have been notorious for hijackings and robberies.

But since peaking in 2011, rates of piracy there have fallen off dramatically in recent years.

This is in large measure as a result of a successful multi-national effort to patrol these waters and take firm action action against acts of piracy.

Local efforts on land in Somalia to change attitudes towards permitting piracy and building legal capacity to prosecute criminals have also helped improve the situation.

In Asia, the Malacca Strait, a busy, commercially important stretch of water between Malaysia and Indonesia, experienced a high number of attacks in 2015.

Concerted action by regional naval forces has reduced the problem there, but piracy still persists.

Attacks against shipping in the Caribbean and off the coast of Latin American have, however, risen.

Venezuela in particular has become a hotspot for piracy.

“Political and economic instability is a big factor there,” says Lydelle Joubert, an expert on piracy at One Earth Future.



Gulf crisis: US confirms drone was shot down by Iranian missile

A US military surveillance drone has been shot down by Iranian forces while flying over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said the drone had violated Iranian airspace. But US military said it had been over international waters.

IRGC commander-in-chief Maj-Gen Hossein Salami said the downing of the drone sent a “clear message to America” that Iran’s borders were its “red line”.

It comes at a time of escalating tension between the US and Iran.

On Monday, the US defence department said it was deploying 1,000 extra troops to the region in response to “hostile behaviour” by Iranian forces.

The US has also accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers with mines last Thursday just outside the Strait of Hormuz, in the Gulf of Oman. Iran rejects the allegation.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen gets close access to stricken oil tanker

It was the second time in a month tankers have been attacked close in the region, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes each day.

Tensions were further fuelled on Monday when Iran announced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium would next week exceed limits it agreed with world powers under a landmark nuclear deal in 2015.

  • What we know about Gulf tanker attacks
  • The Iran nuclear crisis in 300 words

Iran stepped up its production in response to tightening economic sanctions from the US, which unilaterally withdrew from the deal last year.

What happened on Thursday?

The IRGC said its air force shot down the US drone in the early hours of Thursday after the unmanned aircraft violated Iranian airspace near Kuhmobarak in the southern province of Hormozgan.

The drone was identified by the IRGC as a RQ-4 Global Hawk, but the US military official told Reuters news agency the drone was a US Navy MQ-4C Triton, a maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft based on the RQ-4B Global Hawk.

Map of Iran and Strait of Hormuz showing Kuhmobarak

Later, in a speech carried live on Iranian state TV, Gen Salami warned the US that it needed to respect Iran’s territorial integrity and national security.

“The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America… our borders are our red line and we will react strongly against any aggression.”

He added: “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”

This is the first direct incident of the current crisis involving the US and Iranian militaries and is a powerful reminder of the dangers of escalation in the Gulf.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, the downing of the drone was intended to send a clear and explicit message to the Americans – “our borders are our red line” – a point underscored by the IRGC’s commander-in-chief.

So there is no doubting who shot down the US drone, an MQ-4C Triton. It is a massive aircraft with a wing-span equivalent to a small airliner. But the two sides differ as to where it happened. The Iranians say it was in their airspace; the Americans say that it was not.

According to some reports, US President Donald Trump himself is eager to dial down the tension, fearing a spill-over into outright conflict. But this is just the kind of incident that could provoke just such a cycle of action and response.

Presentational grey line

Is this the first time Iran has targeted a US drone?

Last week, the US military accused Iran of attempting to shoot down a US MQ-9 Reaper armed drone with a surface-to-air missile in an attempt to disrupt surveillance of one of the tankers that was attacked, the Kokuka Courageous.

The drone had earlier observed a fire on board the other tanker, the Front Altair.

The previous week, another US MQ-9 Reaper was shot down over Yemen by a surface-to-air missile fired by the Iran-backed rebel Houthi movement.

The US military said the altitude of the engagement “indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance”. Iran denies providing weapons to the Houthis.

In 2011, Iran said it had captured a US RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone that had been reported lost by US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. It developed its own version of the drone, one of which was shot down by Israel last year.

Source: BBC NEWS

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