BULK CARRIER SAFETY: MIDDLE EAST POLITICAL INSTABILITY AND PIRACY IN SOUTH EAST ASIA REMAIN HUGE RISKS, BUT PIRACY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN IS ON THE DECLINE
Piracy in the Indian Ocean has now almost been stamped out but it is on the rise in South East Asia, while political instability in North Africa
and the Middle East was turning the region into a major danger area to maritime operations, ships and seafarers. That was the conclusion of Dryad Maritime, a shipping intelligence company which recently released its 2015 crime statistics.
Dryad’s sources identified 236 maritime ‘incidents’ in South East Asia last year. This compared to only 18 in the Indian Ocean, the source of much angst over the last decade due to Somali pirates. Some 50 incidents were recorded in the ‘Rest of the World’ and 49 in the Gulf of Guinea where kidnappings of crew is a major issue.
A total of nine seafarers were killed globally in 2015, 96 were kidnapped and an estimated 47 are currently in captivity. “The media focus of maritime security shifted again in 2015 from West Africa towards Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean,” concluded Dryad. “Continued increases in reported incidents of maritime crime, and considerable geopolitical unrest, have had a large effect upon maritime trade and operations. The picture is not one of complete gloom, however, with international recognition of a reduction in piracy in the Indian Ocean and a marked increase in the quality of incident reporting throughout the rest of the world.”
Southeast Asia saw a 10% rise in maritime crime from 2014, continuing year on year trends, but Dryad said this could have been larger were it not for the success of the various maritime authorities in arresting maritime criminals. “The final quarter of the year saw a more proactive and effective approach to law enforcement, in particular from the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities, resulting in a welcome drop in crime levels,” sad Dryad.
However, South East Asia remains a problem area, not least for bulk carriers. One of the most serious incidents recorded last year was in the Sulu archipelago, where a number of vessels have been approached by armed men in small fast craft which, after the ships’ Masters took anti-piracy measures, would retreat.
Dryad said that on 18 December, approximately 7nm northwest of Doc Can Island Philippines, armed personnel in a speedboat fired upon bulk carrier Aqua Venture after they failed in a boarding attempt. “Whilst the initial report describes the personnel in the speedboat as robbers, it is unlikely that those seeking to carry out a simple theft would open fire on the vessel,” said the report. “These actions appear to be more indicative of Islamist rebels, such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, intending to kidnap crewmembers for ransom.
“Dryad anticipates that further similar incidents in this area are possible in the coming months, but they will probably be opportunistic in nature and are unlikely to be frequent.”
Geopolitical tensions in the Mediterranean have made it the region of “most concern”, according to Dryad which cited continued civil war in Libya and the expansion of the Islamic State terrorist organization both there and in the Sinai as worrying developments. Ships being diverted to help migrants on distressed vessels in the Mediterranean were a continuing problem and one likely to worsen when the weather improved in the summer months.
“Thankfully, attacks ashore, like those seen in Tunisia, have not been mirrored with incidents at sea,” reported Dryad. “Despite this, the unprecedented flow of desperate people, fleeing across the sea to Europe, has meant that the ongoing crises and instability across North Africa and the Middle East have had a significant impact upon maritime activities.
“The war in Yemen has so far had minimal effect on the transit of shipping through the area, although the Saudi led coalition’s closure of the country’s ports has contributed to a humanitarian crisis ashore. The recent increase in hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Iran has the potential to add to the volatile geopolitical situation in the Gulf region.