Somali pirates take two container ships off the east coast of Somalia
The upswing in piracy off eastern Somalia reported last month by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has continued into April with a spate of attacks that threaten East African trade.
The latest incident, early on 8 April 2009, saw the hijack of a 1,092 TEU, US-flagged container ship some 550 km off the Somalia coastline. The vessel, carrying a crew of 20, had been en route to Mombasa from Djibouti. It is the second container ship reported hijacked off Somalia in less than a week, a German-flagged and owned boxship having been captured on 5 April.
According to the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre, there have been 25 attacks on vessels off East Coast Somalia, resulting in seven hijackings, this year – all of them since 1 March. The surge marks the return of a high volume of pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, the PRC observes. Since the beginning of April, the PRC has confirmed five attacks, with three vessels hijacked and some 74 crew taken hostage.
IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan commented: “This recent surge of activity is worrying for a number of reasons, principally because attacks have taken place many hundreds of miles off the country’s coastline. The problem of Somali piracy has now spilled over to neighbouring countries, threatening trade routes into their ports. These recent attacks have shown that the pirate gangs are able to successfully operate far out to sea using motherships.”
He continued: “Our advice, in line with the EU-led Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA), is for all vessels not calling at East African ports to try and stay at least 600 nm from the coastline. We may have to review our advice in the light of the recent attacks.”
Last year saw a noticeable escalation in piracy focussed around the Gulf of Aden. The international community responded, and the area is now patrolled by a Task Force made up of numerous foreign navies. The initiative has resulted in a reduction in successful attacks in the region, with only six hijackings resulting from 41 attempted attacks so far in 2009. Whilst the number of attempted attacks has not significantly declined, the presence and intervention of the foreign navies has helped to prevent the vessels being hijacked.
The IMB advises that Masters maintain strict 24-hour piracy watches and be especially wary of any approaching small craft. The Bureau further urges ships to report their presence and intended itinerary to the Horn of Africa coalition taskforce, and in the Indian Ocean to observe a Ship Security Level appropriate to the level of pirate attacks reported in the region.
It also urges that Masters report all actual or attempted attacks, as well as any suspicious vessel movements, to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. Such information could provide vital intelligence for other Masters navigating in the area, the PRC says, and has resulted in attacks being averted.