The world’s most dangerous waters – piracy incidents and counter-measures
The waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Singapore Straits are becoming increasingly dangerous, accounting for 70% of piracy incidents in the first half of 2014. We chart the world's most dangerous waters by piracy incidents recorded in the past five years.
Somali waters witnessed 435 piracy incidents between 2009 and 2013 and three incidents were reported in the first half of 2014. Piracy in the area peaked in 2011 with 237 attacks recorded, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), but in 2013 there were only 15 incidents.
Although attacks from Somali pirates have fallen drastically, thanks to Operation Atalanta, also known as the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia, the risk of being approached or attacked is still high. In October, UN official Jeffrey Feltman called piracy a "political problem" and warned that piracy could return. Organisations such as the IMB have also warned against complacency. "Although the number of attacks continues to remain low, the threat of Somali piracy is still clearly evident," said IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan.
Somali pirates are usually well armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, occasionally boarding skiffs launched from mother vessels to conduct attacks far away from the coast.
The Indonesian coast has witnessed 288 piracy incidents between 2009 and 2013 and, despite patrolling efforts by the Indonesian Marine Police, 47 attacks were reported in the first half of 2014. Most of the incidents are low-profile thefts. The waters off Tanjung Priok, Bintan Island, Karimun Island and Belawan anchorage are most exposed to attacks.
According to the German insurance group Allianz, there were 106 actual or attempted piracy incidents in Indonesia in 2013, making it the top global location for attacks. In 2009 there were just 15 reported incidents, meaning there has been a 700% rise in piracy attacks over the preceding years. Most attacks are characterised by Allianz as "local, low level opportunistic thefts" but some are much more organised.
The hijacking of Thai-flagged oil tanker MT Orapin 4 by armed pirates on 28 May 2014 in Bintan Island is the most notable attack in the recent past. The pirates destroyed all communications systems aboard the ship, stole all cargo but left the vessel without harming the crew. The vessel was found by the Royal Thai Navy in Chon Buri province and safely returned to Sriracha port on 1 June 2014.
Gulf of Aden
The waters off the Gulf of Aden witnessed 226 piracy incidents between 2009 and 2013. The joint efforts of navies in the region and best management practices version 4 (BMP4) procedures, however, have helped reduce the number of incidents to just four in the first half of 2014. Somali pirates accounted for most of the attacks in the region.
The Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) established the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the region and EUNAVFOR - Operation Atalanta's current fleet is protecting merchant vessels in the area. The fleet includes two Karel Doorman-class frigates (from Belgium and Netherlands), a Spanish Santa Maria-class frigate, an Italian Horizon-class destroyer, a German Berlin-class combat support ship and a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
In January, crew from EUNAVFOR's then-flagship FS Siroco, with the help of a Japanese vessel, arrested five Somali pirates on board a dhow in the Gulf of Aden. The suspects were believed to have been involved in an attack on an oil tanker the day before which was repelled by a private security team.
The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a natural chokepoint between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, remains an area of concern for vessels transiting the Europe-Asia shipping route.
The Nigerian coast and surrounding waters witnessed 116 piracy incidents between 2009 and 2013 and ten attacks were reported in the first half of 2014.
The frequency of attacks in West African waters surpassed those in East Africa in 2012. In the first quarter of 2014, 12 twelve of the 49 incidents reported worldwide occurred off West Africa, according to IMB figures. Instead of seeking ransoms, like Somali pirates usually do, Nigerian hijackers often steal oil cargo and then sell it on the black market.
The highest risk area is still off the coast of Nigeria, but the IMB reported that Angola had seen its first hijacking in 2014 which demonstrated the increased range and capability of Nigerian piracy around the Gulf of Guinea. A senior Nigerian naval official said in October that Nigeria now loses 800,000 barrels of crude oil per month due to piracy.
In one of the most notable incidents this year, a Nigerian supply vessel, the Prime Lady, was hijacked off the coast of Nigeria by seven pirates on 4 March 2014. The pirates detained the crew members and broke the locked cabins as well as stores to steal property.
The Red Sea is a key commercial shipping route between Europe and Asia and one of the busiest in the world in terms of traffic. Although piracy incidents generally occur further south in the Gulf of Aden, hijackings and boardings have also taken place in the Red Sea.
A total of 94 piracy incidents were reported in Red Sea in the last five years. Attacks have dropped considerably due to military anti-piracy missions and preventive measures as well as armed guards placed aboard merchant vessels.
Attempts to attack two chemical tankers in the first half of 2014 in the Red Sea were rendered unsuccessful by a counter-attack by armed security guards on board. A merchant vessel was reportedly hijacked by Somali pirates in the Red Sea in January, but later reports confirmed it was actually boarded by Eritrean forces.
Strait of Malacca
The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, used by more than 60,000 vessels per year. It is the shortest sea route between oil suppliers in the Persian Gulf and the Asian markets of China, Japan and South Korea.
The Strait of Malacca and waters off Malaysia witnessed 79 piracy incidents in the past five years and ten in the first half of 2014 according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC). Attacks in the Malacca Straits have fallen considerably due to anti-piracy operations by the navies of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The Strait of Malacca is prone to pirate attacks as it is approachable from a number of islets. MT NaniWa Maru No.1, a St Kitts and Nevis-flagged product tanker, was hijacked by ten armed pirates in April 2014. The pirates unloaded the oil cargo into an unknown vessel and looted the ship, damaged the communication systems and escaped with three hostages.
There have been 74 piracy and armed robbery incidents recorded in the last five years in and around the waters off Bangladesh, and ten in the first half of 2014 according to the IMB PRC.
The area around the port of Chittagong is the most affected and ships preparing to anchor have been the most vulnerable to attacks. Fewer attacks have been recorded in recent times due to anti-piracy efforts by the Bangladesh Coast Guard, but experts say that corrupt law enforcement agencies and poverty-induced criminality often exacerbate the problem of piracy in the region.
The most recent attack occurred at Chittagong Literage Anchorage on 27 September 2014. An anchored product tanker was boarded by four armed robbers who detained the duty crew and raided the stores. The duty crew escaped with minor injuries.
The Bangladesh Navy routinely works with the US Navy and other regional allies to counter piracy. Regional navies recently worked together during the 20th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise which focused on maritime security threats.
South China Sea
Despite measures by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), a total of 63 piracy attacks were reported in the South China Sea over the last five years, especially in and around the Anambas, Natuna and Mangkai islands and Merundung.
Nine armed pirates hijacked Honduras-flagged product tanker Moresby 9 on 4 July 2014 near the Anambas islands and unloaded more than 2,000t of marine gas oil from the vessel, which had also suffered a similar attack in 2013. Only weeks later, pirates hijacked Malaysian-flagged oil tanker MT Oriental Glory in the South China Sea, siphoned off 2,500 tonnes of marine gas oil, injured three crew members and damaged the vessel's communication equipment.
Pirates targeting small tankers in the South China Sea and steal their cargo are thought to be "highly organised criminal professionals" with knowledge of how to disable a ship's critical systems. The IMB issued a warning to all ships in June 2014, particularly small tankers, to maintain strict anti-piracy measures while operating in the South China Sea.
The anchorages and ports off the waters of India witnessed 45 piracy and armed robbery incidents from 2009 to 2013, while four incidents were reported in the first half of 2014. Anchorages at the Western Indian seaport of Kandla remain the most piracy-prone in the country. On 3 September three armed boarded an anchored product tanker at Kandla and escaped with stolen cargo.
Incidents have occurred in Kochi, a major port city on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, and Visakhapatnam on the east coast, where robbers stole equipment from a chemical tanker on 14 September.
Because a large percentage of India's trade passes through the Gulf of Aden, India has been active in counter-piracy efforts away from its own coastlines. The Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy conduct anti-piracy patrols in the Arabian Sea and the navy also provides escort for merchant ships sailing through the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor in the Gulf of Aden. Indian naval ships have foiled over 40 piracy attempts since their deployment in October 2008.
The 105km long, 16km wide Singapore Strait links the Strait of Malacca with the South China Sea. Ships must transit the natural bottleneck to reach the Port of Singapore, one of the busiest in the world, making the route extremely busy in terms of maritime traffic.
The Singapore Strait saw 38 piracy incidents in the last five years and six incidents in the first half of 2014. Air patrols are conducted by Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand under the Eyes-in-the-Sky (EiS) initiative to protect merchant shipping in the Singapore and Malacca Straits.
Ships leaving or entering the Singapore Strait from the west and east can be particularly vulnerable. On 17 September a tanker leaving the strait en-route to Timor-Leste was hijacked and its cargo of gas oil transferred to two smaller tankers.
The US has recently joined ReCAAP to help fight piracy around the Singapore Strait as well as the Malacca Strait. Coordinated air patrol missions are allowed in the international and national airspace over the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Despite these anti-piracy efforts, a Saudi Arabia-flagged chemical tanker was recently boarded by armed robbers who escaped with stolen goods.