Iraq declared new piracy hotspot

  • 31 January 2006

Iraq has been cited as a new world piracy hotspot in the 2005 Annual Report on Piracy and Armed Robbery released by the International Chamber of Commerce.

According to the report 10 attacks were reported in 2005 compared to none in 2004. IMB says most of the attacks were perpetrated by opportunists who use extreme violence towards crew and whose main motivation is robbery and financial gain. Attacking from small boats, pirates work quickly, mostly attacking vessels at anchor in the vicinity of Basrah oil terminal and Umm Qasr. In one example a tanker, at anchor, was boarded by three robbers wielding machine guns. They held the Master and Second Officer at gunpoint and fired a shot that narrowly missed the Master before forcing him to open the ship’s safe. In other cases, several crewmembers were seriously assaulted and injured.

The 2005 report also reveals an increase of pirate activity in other areas – most notably Somalia, Tanzania and Vietnam – and calls on regional law enforcement agencies to increase their efforts to combat the problem.

Somalia recorded 35 reported attacks in 2005 compared to just two in 2004. The increased attacks now rank Somalia number two after Indonesia in the table of world piracy risk prone areas and declares Somali waters the most dangerous in Africa. With attacks taking place further off the north east and eastern coasts of Somalia in 2005, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur began to issue daily warnings to ships to stay at least 200 nautical miles offshore. Pirates in the area are believed to work from ‘mother ships’ and regularly use guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers to capture vessels which are subsequently taken into Somali waters and held to ransom. With no central government and no national law enforcement infrastructure in the country, no local assistance is available to captured ships. The report does however note that the frequency of attacks began to decrease towards the end of 2005, when, following international pressure, the presence of foreign naval vessels in the area was stepped up.

According to the report a total of 23 vessels were hijacked in 2005, the highest in four years. 440 crewmembers were taken hostage in 2005, the highest number since IMB started compiling statistics in 1992. The hostages were taken in incidents in Somalia, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Despite a rise in attacks in some areas, the number of reported piracy attacks for 2005 fell from 329 in 2004 to 276 in 2005, the lowest recorded figure in six years. According to the report no crewmembers were killed in acts of piracy last year – though 12 remain missing.

The 2005 report attributes the drop in attacks to increased awareness, anti-piracy watches by shipmasters in risk prone areas, an increase in law enforcement patrols and mounting pressure on governments to act.

“The drop in the number of reported attacks last year should be seen as a positive sign,” said IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan. “Some countries are becoming more pro active in their approach to dealing with piracy and armed robbery against ships.”

Although the 2006 report welcomes the downturn, it warns that any let-up in anti-piracy enforcement at this time would quickly see the number of attacks rise again.

Despite accounting for nearly 30% of all reported attacks, figures for Indonesia show a drop from 94 reported attacks in 2004 to 79 attacks in 2005. Attacks in the Malacca Straits fell from 38 in 2004 to 12 attacks in 2005. Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Nigeria and Guinea also all recorded a fall in the number of reported piracy and armed robbery attacks.

The report says positive action taken by agencies – notably in Indonesia and the Malacca Straits – has proven to be effective. Operation Gurita – resulting in gangs of pirates being caught and at least six small vessels being recovered – was one such example of positive action highlighted in the report.

The report congratulates Indonesian authorities in particular for their increased efforts to fight piracy.

IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre is the only independent centre of its kind in the world. It offers ships and their crews a facility to report pirate attacks at any time. It can provide assistance wherever they are in the world, via a single point of contact.

In order to establish a better picture of the piracy and armed robbery problem, IMB encourages more attacks and attempted attacks to be reported to the PRC. However, IMB notes that the centre’s role extends far beyond compiling reports and issuing warnings,

The work of the PRC is funded by 22 organizations including P&I Clubs, ship owners and insurers. The centre is now recognized throughout the maritime industry for its valuable contribution in quantifying the problem of world piracy and for providing free assistance to ships that have been attacked. In addition to documenting the facts, IMB’s Annual Report on Piracy and Armed Robbery analyses developments in pirate activity and identifies piracy-prone areas in order for ships to take preventive action.