Piracy heats up in Somali waters

  • 20 June 2005

ICC’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) warns that acts of piracy are on the rise in Somali waters. Since March 2005, there have been at least five attempted hijackings, two of which escalated into full blown acts of life-threatening piracy. This rise in threatening activity comes after a period of relative calm. Only two incidents of piracy were recorded in the whole of 2004.

Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB stated: “IMB has received reports of pirates armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades. Innocent craft are approached by numerous pirate craft, arriving from different directions, firing indiscriminately at the bridge in an attempt to force the vessel to stop. In recent attacks at least one crew member was killed after pirates took control of a vessel.”

The attacks are noted for the pirates’use of distress flares as a means of luring their prey. Once the target vessel approaches, the heavily armed hijackers typically attack using a number of speedboats. Most of the recent targets were attacked while underway, and several shipmasters were forced to take evasive action to shake off their attackers .

Pirates in Somali waters have targeted everything that floats from fishing vessels and yachts to bulk carriers, general cargo ships and even a tanker aiming to steal valuables from the ship, or holding the crew for ransom.

In the latest incident on 6 June, three pirates armed with automatic weapons attacked the bulk carrier MV Tigris from a white speedboat off the coast of Mogadishu. The master of the Tigris sent out a distress call picked up by an American warship, USS Gonzalez. Using flares and searchlights, the warship scared off the pirates. No injuries to the crew were reported, though at least ten bullet holes were found in the starboard side of the Tigris near the bridge.

In an incident on 5 May, pirates boarded a general cargo vessel off Somalia’s eastern coast. The 21 crew members were beaten and locked in a room and the attackers demanded a ransom to release them and the ship. IMB is awaiting further news about this incident.

Captain Mukundan noted: “The lack of any stable or coherent government in Somalia is contributing to this lawlessness in its waters. Local warlords are interested in making money above all else, and hijacking commercial vessels has proven to be an expedient method of doing so.”

Because of the frequency and violence of recent attacks, IMB recommends that unless vessels are scheduled to call at ports in the area, they remain at least 50 miles off the coast of Eastern Somalia. The effects of this recommendation and the piracy activities in the area will be regularly monitored by IMB.