The Indian Ocean monsoon season is due to end in a few weeks — and when it does, pirate attacks will be likely to increase once again off the coast of Somalia.
However, there is uncertainty over where in the vast Indian Ocean the syndicates will focus their efforts.
Recent weeks have seen a significant drop in the number of attacks taking place off the east coast of Africa. There were no attacks recorded in the Indian Ocean throughout July and little activity witnessed in August either.
Poor weather has once again pushed pirates back to more familiar coastal waters in the Gulf of Aden and southern Red Sea. Fortunately, with risk mitigation measures, a strong naval presence and general levels of vigilance by vessel operators in these areas, most of the latest attacks have been unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, the hijack of a tanker in Salalah harbour on August 20 signified not only that the risk persists, but that pirates are becoming increasingly emboldened as regards their chosen locations for attack.
Successful hijackings are likely to increase once again in the coming weeks when pirates return to open waters. Here, there is a much thinner presence of naval warships, which means vessels will have little in the way of assistance if they are attacked.
The seas around Socotra are likely to see the first rise in activity, while incidents should also be anticipated off the coasts of Oman and Kenya, as the pirates move further out into the ocean.
Concerns have also been raised over the prospects for the Gulf of Oman. Before the onset of the monsoon, the energy corridor of the Gulf of Oman appeared to be developing into more of a hotspot for maritime criminality.
Ships emerging from the strategically and previously untouched Straits of Hormuz look set to experience a greater number of hijacking attempts by pirates.
The mouth of the Straits of Hormuz is a key ‘chokepoint’, which could provide ample pickings for pirates, not least because there is little in the way of an international naval presence in the area to protect vessels from attacks.
Incidents in 2010 and 2009 were also clustered off the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania. While many pirates will undoubtedly continue to target the Arabian Sea further northeast, there is evidence that different pirate syndicates on land in Somalia have agreed to target different areas of the Indian Ocean.
It is therefore likely some skiffs at least will attempt to hijack ships off the east coast of Africa, potentially close to ports such as Mombasa and Dar es-Salaam.
As well as a worry for the cargo vessels plying these trade routes, concerns have also been raised over the risk of attack against energy infrastructure in these waters. As well as tankers, the area sees offshore rigs and support vessels working on a regular basis.
While they have not yet been targeted, those responsible for their security are advised to review protective measures. Indeed, all vessel operators are recommended to review their measures at this time. Pirates continue to demonstrate their intent — and ability — to target all vessel types, not just tankers or cargo vessels.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant at AKE Intelligence in Lloyd’s of London. AKE works with GAC to provide protective solutions to vessels travelling in high-risk areas. For more information on its services, including vessel security, training and intelligence, contact +44 (0) 20 7816 5454 or [email protected] or visit www.gac.com