Somali Hijackings in the Indian Ocean - Extract from IMB Bulletin 22

November 2009

Extract from ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Bulletin issue 22 of 15 November 2009, reproduced here with kind permission of ICC-IMB:  

After the lull of the summer months, there has been a substantial increase in attacks against ships by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean since 01 October. 

Intelligence received by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) and passed on to the naval commands operating in the region had indicated that groups of pirates had set out from small villages in Southern Somalia at the end of September.  

On 15 October they successfully hijacked a container vessel 600 nms off Mogadishu in Somalia. On 19 October a bulk carrier was seized around 900 nms from Mogadishu.  On 22 October another bulk carrier was seized further South.  

The IMB PRC and EU NAVFOR recommend that vessels sail at least 600 nms off the Somali Coast. These attacks have occurred beyond that limit.  

This week a cluster of successful attacks took place east of 60 degrees East between 900 and 1100 nms from Mogadishu. On 09 November a ULCC was fired upon but boarding was averted. On 10 November a container vessel was fired upon. On 11 November a handy sized bulk carrier was successfully hijacked in this cluster. 

There are simply not enough naval vessels in the Indian Ocean to protect shipping in the way it can in the Gulf of Aden. Given the vast ocean areas to be patrolled we may never have enough. 

The recommended route is driven by the consideration that by sailing a longer distance away from the coast it forces the pirates to operate further away from their comfort zone, increasing the amount of fuel they need to have on board to get to the site of the attack and thereby reducing the time they can hunt for a vessel before having to head back to replenish the fuel on board.  

Does it add value to consider increasing the recommended route beyond the 600 nms? On reflection, this may be unnecessary. There are many owners already routing their vessels beyond 1000 nms off the Somali coast. The current thinking is to maintain the recommendation of at least 600 nms, but  to  inform  all  shipping of  the cluster of attacks which take place beyond. This is sent out by the IMB PRC in its daily broadcast to shipping or as and when a cluster is identified. 

 The location of attacks in this last cluster would indicate that the pirates were operating from the same mothership. Without the mothership, the pirates would not be able to operate so far out to sea. The IMB has previously led the call for robust naval action against motherships. In a situation where there are few other realistic options this needs to be re-emphasized.  

Somalia is a not a country with a sophisticated fishing fleet which has the capability to fish economically 600 nms away from its bases in Somalia. A Somali fishing vessel operating 1000 nms off its coast in an area known to be the scene of pirate attacks has to be treated with suspicion. A genuine fishing vessel operating so far off the coast will need refrigerating equipment and holds, in working order, to store their catch. Rocket propelled grenade launchers and seven meter boarding ladders are not legitimate fishing equipment. The time may have come to apply more common sense and less kid-gloves in dealing with these criminal vessels. We should not forget that on 09 November the subject of their attentions was a ULCC. Pursuant to Article 2 of UNSCR 1851, vessels, weapons and equipment suspected of being used for piracy may be seized or disposed of. It is a pity that this UNSC Resolution which was obtained after so much effort and promulgated to deal with precisely such situations are not being applied by the governments as a basis for the Rules of Engagement to their naval commanders with vessels off the Horn of Africa.   

Could the last cluster of attacks 09-11 November culminating in the hijacking of the bulk carrier 1000 nms off Mogadishu have been prevented? Arguably they could have been, if there was an available naval vessel within a day’s sailing distance. More importantly, the mother ship should have been identified and dealt with, imposing a serious cost and risk upon those controlling and financing the pirate operations.