IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan stated: “The IMB is very concerned about the recent increase in piracy activities by armed Somali militia. The threat posed to vessels operating off the eastern Somali coast is very real and should not be understated. The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has confirmed that armed pirates in speedboats and gunboats are frequently opening fire on ships, seeking to hijack the vessel and hold the crew to ransom.”
In the past four months, the likelihood of attack on vessels off the eastern Somali coastline has increased significantly. In the recent past, any vessel slowing down, or stopping close to the Somali coast has risked being boarded by gangs of Somali militiamen. Using violent means, these pirates have been extorting substantial sums of money from ship owners in exchange for the return of vessels and crew.
In June 2005, the IMB issued a warning about this activity and recommended that ships remain at least 50 miles offshore. While many mariners have headed this advice, the pirates operating in the area have become more audacious and are venturing further away from the shoreline. A number of recent attacks have occurred over 100 miles from Somalia’s eastern coast. In a ten day period towards the end of July there were eight attacks.
Two recent attacks are examples of the extreme danger faced by vessels travelling in these waters. M V SEMLOW, a general cargo ship carrying 850 metric tons of rice as aid cargo, was hijacked on 26 June 2005. The pirates originally demanded a substantial sum for their release but backed down after the World Food Programme threatened to stop all deliveries of its cargoes to Somalia until the vessel was released. On 26 July 2005 an LPG tanker was attacked by pirates approximately 85 miles from the east coast of Somalia. Eight pirates armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades chased and fired upon the ship from two fibre glass speedboats. Fortunately, the ship managed to increase speed and get away with no injuries to the crew or the tanker. There have been a number of other attacks since then.
Captain Mukundan added: “These are the expected consequences in a region where there has been a long civil war and no effective law enforcement infrastructure. Based upon recent attacks, the IMB’s advice is to keep at least 150 miles off the eastern and north eastern coast of Somalia, unless a ship is specifically calling at a Somali port. The use of radio communications, including VHF, should be kept to a minimum in this area.”
The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre will continue to monitor activity in this region and provide updates as required.