The first three months of 2016 have visibly demonstrated the dynamic nature of maritime crime and how effective action to combat it can turn the tide in favour of the good guys.
In our report, released on Tuesday 12th April, there are some welcome causes for optimism in certain regions, notably the Indian Ocean where Somali piracy remains broadly contained, and in Southeast Asia where we have seen a remarkable turnaround in a little over six months to deliver our lowest first quarter figures in a decade. By contrast, the Gulf of Guinea has given us cause for concern, with regional forces unable to prevent determined criminals from kidnapping crew from vessels offshore.
“Somali piracy remains broadly contained and in Southeast Asia we have seen a remarkable turnaround to deliver our lowest figures in a decade.”
In Southeast Asia we have seen more than a 50% drop in reported maritime crime compared to the same period in 2015; the lowest figures we have recorded in 10 years. Similarly, the end of Q1 2016 represents the longest period without attacks on MVs underway or at anchor within the Singapore Strait since Q1 2013 – another piece of good news for the shipping industry and its mariners.
Regional security forces and law enforcement deserve much credit for the improving situation in Southeast Asia, especially for combatting product tanker hijack and the 2015 crime spree in the Singapore Strait. They have done this by tackling the criminal gangs at source and by deterring those that might be tempted to work for them through education and more effective patrolling. It is, however, not a completely positive picture, with concerns over terrorist related, maritime kidnap in the Sulu Sea and a worsening crime situation off Vietnam but, all things considered, the overall picture is a very positive one.
Gulf of Guinea
The Gulf of Guinea has not got off to such a good start in 2016. The kidnap of crew for ransom off the Niger Delta continues with the criminals growing in confidence and operating with impunity as they continue to take crew members from ships in the region from under the noses of naval forces who, despite their best efforts, lack the resources and the capability to effectively deter the criminals beyond territorial waters and some offshore terminals. More optimistically, however, the complex and logistically difficult product tanker hijack has been unsuccessful in the first three months of the year, with the Nigerian Navy thwarting a criminal operation in February; a rare, but very welcome success for which the Nigerian Navy should be congratulated.
“The kidnap of crew for ransom off the Niger Delta continues with the criminals growing in confidence and operating with impunity.”
January to March saw a surge of industrial sabotage ashore in Nigeria, whilst the actions of pirates offshore resulted in attacks on 14 commercial vessels. The good news is that 8 of these attacks were unsuccessful thanks to the prompt action of masters in evading the pirates and well-drilled crews retreating to citadels. The bad news is that 6 successful attacks resulted in the kidnap of 23 crew – an unacceptable situation that needs tackling at source, but is likely to continue.
Indian Ocean & Gulf of Aden
Somali piracy continues to be broadly contained with no confirmed attacks on large merchant vessels since January 2014, despite some commentators’ views that the pirates continue to ‘probe’ with ‘soft approaches’ that are deterred by demonstrations of force, flares or warning shots. Given that the last disruption of a Somali pirate action group was in January 2014 following the last confirmed attack on a large merchant vessel, it is most likely that the vast majority of such ‘probing’ is actually misreporting of regional fishermen, traders and smugglers and not the actions of cautious pirates.
Conditions can change quickly, for good and for ill, so we are by no means complacent. Without the comprehensive, international response to the Somali pirate threat we wouldn’t be in the favourable position we find ourselves in today. A great deal of credit must go to international naval forces and maritime security industry whose warships, helicopters and armed guards have deterred and defeated attempts at piracy, resulting in the remarkable decline from a high of 213 attacks on commercial shipping in 2011 to zero in 2015 and 2016 to date.
“We should be wary of those that seek to talk up the threat, basing their warnings on the impact of attacks and hijack rather than the evidence-based probability of such incidents.”
We need to monitor the situation carefully and maintain diligent approaches to risk management, but we are most certainly in a period of de-escalation and, whilst we cannot rule out a successful pirate attack on an unprepared or vulnerable vessel close to Somalia, a return to industrial levels of open-ocean Somali piracy is unlikely, unless we see a significant change in the international efforts to mitigate the risk. The shipping industry spends huge amounts of money in managing the risk of piracy, so we should be wary of those that seek to talk up the threat, basing their warnings on the impact of attacks and hijack rather than the evidence-based probability of such incidents. My advice? Ask the experts, but choose them wisely.
Beyond the normal areas of focus for commercial and leisure mariners there are wider concerns. From civil war in Libya, Syria and Yemen to maritime terrorism concerns and the impact of humanitarian crises such as maritime migration, there is plenty to focus the minds of all those with duty of care responsibilities for ships, crew and passengers, but all of these are manageable issues with proper planning and support.
Despite the good progress in some regions, we should remember that criminal enterprises, maritime or otherwise, are adaptable, flexible and unconstrained by ethics, morality or international corporate law. We know that they are no less business savvy than legitimate, law-abiding enterprises and will adapt to changing market conditions, finding new, less risky and more profitable ways of acquiring their ill-gotten gains. The drop off in cargo theft and increase in kidnap activity in the Gulf of Guinea, could be one such example of such criminal adaptability.
Keeping one step ahead of the criminals is the key to success and a the foundations of success lie in understanding the threat and engaging in ways of mitigating the risk that they may pose. We hope that you will find our insight to be objective, evidence-based and balanced, providing or strengthening the foundations of the knowledge you need to understand the threats and, above all, keep your people safe.
To read the full report on our Maritime Crime Figures for Q1, 2016 click here for a free download.
source: Ian Millen
Chief Operating Officer Dryad Maritime