East Africa and the Arabian Sea
A suspicious approach was reported in the Gulf of Aden and an Iranian fishing dhow was detained off Socotra Island. The last incident is not related to piracy.
Suspicious Approach. MV Jag Amar
At 10:00LT on 6 October 2017 two white skiffs approached the Indian flagged MV Jag Amar, a cargo vessel to a distance of 1.2nm. The cargo ship mustered and initiated evasive manoeuvres. The skiffs turned away. Ladders were allegedly sighted on the skiffs.10
At 12:30LT the Indian Navy intercepted a dhow with 12 suspects onboard. One AK-47 with 27 rounds were recovered. It was also reported that a grapnel and ladders have been recovered.11 It seems that the dhow and the crew were later released by the navy.
Intercepted dhow. Source Twitter @indiannavy
On 15 October 2017 the Iranian Press reported that an Iranian fishing boat captain reported that his boat had broken down and that two fast boats were approaching. They had 20 crew onboard. Communication was lost at that point.12
On 21 October the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior reported that fishermen on the Island of Abd Al-Kuri south of Socotra Island, Yemen detained an Iranian smuggling ship with a crew of 19 off Hadiboh, Socotra. They reported that an investigation is underway on the details of the cargo and the origins of the supply. No further mention of the incident was made in the following days.13
USS Howard’s boarding team approaching dhow. Source: https://news.usni.org
It was reported that the USS Howard and Japanese destroyer JS Amagiri rescued the crew of an Iranian fishing dhow on 24 October 2017 that came under pirate attack south of Socotra. This came in reaction to an Iranian coast guard distress call on 14 October of an Iranian fishing dhow under pirate attack. No details of the incident was given, but the USS Howard’s boarding team assisted the crew with food and water, made repairs and gave medical aid to three injured crew.14
Analysis: Although this was reported as three separate incidents there seems to be a common thread and it is likely that this is the same incident reported from different sides of the political spectrum. It is unlikely that the incident is piracy related and it is most likely linked to the conflict in Yemen.
The root causes for piracy off Somalia - the socio economic situation and political instability in Somalia - still exist today. The threat is offset by the improvement of local security and the development of marine forces; capacity building by several international role-players; and a changing attitude of elders and local authorities not willing to let their territories serve as a safe base for pirates keeping hostages anymore. The prosecution of pirates and the building of a legal capability in Somalia also had a positive effect on piracy prevention. Although there is still room for improvement.
Several organizations such as the Global Maritime Crime Programme of UNODC, Oceans beyond Piracy, EUCAP Somalia and INTERPOL support Somalian law enforcement at the ports of Berbera, Bosasso and Mogadishu with construction, communication improvement, maritime equipment, training and maintenance. One of these projects was the construction of the Bosasso Port Police Headquarters.15
On the sea side the presence of foreign navies; the successful arrests of pirates by these navies as well as onboard security measures such as Best Management Practises and private security teams made a invaluable contribution in keeping piracy in check. It is also important that these entities remain.
The arrest of pirates in the attempted hijacking of the bulk carrier, OS 35 on 8 April 2017 by the Chinese Navy16 had an positive effect on the piracy risk-reward spectrum in 2017. As pirate groups are opportunistic and key players of these pirate networks are still active in other criminal activities such as weapon smuggling, the potential for pirate attacks remain. Piracy will resurge if any factor in this situation changes.
Dhows and vessels operating close to the Somalian coast were at high risk in 2017. Of the four recorded successful hijackings in 2017, three were on dhows. A further three unconfirmed hijackings of dhows were also recorded. None of the confirmed hijackings led to any ransom demands being paid, but reports indicated that the unconfirmed hijacking of two Yemeni fishing boats in February 2017 led to payment of a relative low ransom amount. Only one commercial vessel a tanker, Aris 13 was hijacked in 2017 on 13 March 2017 close to the Somalian coast.17 The Puntland Marine Force cut access of supplies to the vessel. Sources also reported that the pirates received a hostile reception from local elders in Puntland. The ship was released without any ransom payment.
Hijackings of dhows continued when hijackings on commercial vessels ceased in 2012. It is most likely also underreported at times. In 2014 two hijackings of dhows were reported and four in 2015. The remaining eight crew of the Iranian fishing vessel, Siraj hijacked off Ceel Huur on 23 March 2015 still remain in pirate custody in Somalia today.18
Several suspicious approaches were reported in 2017. It is not clear why, keeping the Somalian piracy business model in mind, pirate financiers will keep financing pirate operations without any return on their investment. With a high volume of unprotected vessels there is a lack of aggressive attacks on vessels with some vessels reporting being approached on more than a nautical mile. If the intent was hijacking we should have seen more aggressive boarding attempts on unprotected vessels.
On the other hand several sightings of ladders are reported. It stand to reason what possible other use ladders can have than the boarding of vessels with a high freeboard.
With regard to the Yemeni conflict it seems that ships with a military profile or with a sailing pattern associated with logistical support to either party in the conflict are more likely to be targeted. Vessels loitering around strategic located islands in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea can be seen as suspicious and targeted by forces occupying the islands. Although there is no direct threat to passing commercial traffic in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and off the Yemeni coast by parties in the conflict, coincidental attacks are possible and have been reported in 2017.
Independent Global Incident Analysis