Gulf states including the GCC and Oman must ramp up measures to fend off the growing problem of marine pirate attacks, or risk becoming a hotbed for hijackings, analysts said.
Oman in August saw two attacks on ships near the port of Salalah, with one tanker and crew snatched from inside the port in front of the coast guard, and experts warn these attacks may be the tip of the iceberg.
“The problem will only worsen in the short-term as the Monsoon season is due to end in mid-September. The Gulf of Oman might be a new area of focus, which will pose a concern for Emirati shipping interests which must pass through the area,” said John Drake, a senior risk consultant at AKE Group.
Piracy is a well-organised and highly lucrative business and has expanded into a vast area off the coast of Somalia. An estimated $150m was paid in ransoms for ships, cargoes and crews to pirate gangs last year, while a record 1,181 seafarers were kidnapped, according to consultancy Dryad Maritime Intelligence.
“For the UAE, the problem must be carefully monitored and ensure that it does not continue to expand into the Gulf of Oman,” said Tim Hart, maritime security analyst from Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants. “If the problem isn’t resolved and is allowed to continue it will encourage more potential pirates to turn to the crime. They will go to greater and greater lengths to hijack vessels, adapting to onboard precautions and potentially moving into areas they had not previously operated in trying to find the more lucrative targets.”
Oman lies at the mouth of the Gulf, a strategic, heavily patrolled waterway which channels a bulk of the world’s crude shipments. Somali pirates usually operate in Indian Ocean waters, but the waters around Salalah have seen a rising number of attacks.
Several oil tankers have also been attacked in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, with their valuable cargoes being used by pirates to demand ransoms.
The potential risk will put shipping companies in the region under increasing pressure to protect their crew and vessels from attacks, Drake said.
“Shipping companies will have to implement risk management techniques, including the use of barbed wire and safe-rooms. These measures will make it harder for pirates to gain access to a ship and reach the crew, and significantly reduce the likelihood of a vessel being seized.”
Recent incidents involving UAE ships include that of the MV Jubba XX, a small oil tanker seized by pirates off the Yemen coast on its way to port of Berbera in mid-July.
The tanker, which was released a few weeks later, was carrying 3,500 tonnes of oil products and had a crew of 17 people.
It was the third UAE ship to be hijacked this year, in addition to the MV Iceberg I, owned by the Dubai-based Azal Shipping, seized in March, and an unknown vessel purportedly named the MV Al Nasri, which was hijacked 35 miles outside the port of Bossaso in Puntland.
Analysts say piracy is a land-based problem, triggered by a combination of poverty in a coastal community, lawlessness and increasing use of weaponry.
Somalia has lacked a functioning government for two decades. The United Nations last month declared a famine in Somalia and said that 3.7 million people were in need of food assistance.