[NMS: The following article comes from the ICS 2014 annual review]
There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of successful attacks against ships by Somali pirates, and at the beginning of 2014 they stood at a five-year low. However, it is very premature to conclude that the crisis is over.
Somali pirates are still active and retain the capacity to attack ships
far into the Indian Ocean. In 2013 there were at least 13 reported incidents including two hijackings. It must also not be forgotten that many seafarers are still being held hostage, some having been in captivity for over three years.
The current political situation in Somalia is very fluid. But the recent reduction in successful attacks is attributed to the combined success of self-protective measures taken by shipping companies including compliance with the latest version of the industry‚Äôs Best Management Practices (BMP4), the continued use of private maritime security companies, and the vital protection provided by military assets in the region. This has involved an unprecedented level of co-operation including NATO and EUNAVFOR, as well as China, Russia and India and many other Asian countries. There have also been new capacity building initiatives ashore to assist Somali communities, in which several national shipowners‚Äô associations have been involved.
Informed analysts appear to agree that all of the conditions needed to start a resurgence of Somali piracy remain in place, as shown by the high number of probing attacks. ICS is therefore still taking every opportunity to deliver a coherent message to politicians that the current level of military presence continues to be necessary. ICS also continues to emphasise the vital need for ships to adhere fully with BMP4 whenever trading in what remains a very high risk area throughout much of the western Indian Ocean.
ICS continues to dedicate resources to liaising with the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, including attendance at its regular meetings at the United Nations in New York and at locations such as Djibouti, where it met in November 2013. ICS has also remained engaged with coalition navy commanders in London, and at their regular operational liaison meetings in Bahrain. Given the importance of the military protection provided by EUNAVFOR, ICS is also working closely with its European regional partner, ECSA, to ensure that the profile of piracy is maintained amongst EU policy makers. It is particularly important that the political mandate for ‚ÄòOperation Atalanta‚Äô, the first ever EU naval operation, continues to be extended.
Meanwhile, working to the assumption that private armed guards may be used for the foreseeable future, ICS is closely involved in discussions at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) about the adoption of Rules for the Use of Force (RUF). These will hopefully be based on those
developed in 2013, with ICS‚Äôs co-operation, by the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) to sit alongside existing ISO standards for the regulation of private maritime security companies that have already been welcomed by IMO.
At the end of 2013, ICS issued a strategy paper drawing upon the international shipping industry‚Äôs experience of Somali-based piracy since 2007. The intention is to identify lessons learned in order to help shape future policy responses, wherever in the world they might be needed. The ICS paper has been
submitted to the International Contact Group and by all accounts has been well received by governments.
Attacks in West Africa
Notwithstanding the need for governments and the industry to remain vigilant with respect
to Somali piracy, attention has shifted to the large numbers of violent attacks, often involving firearms, against shipping in West Africa.
51 attacks were reported by the International
Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2013, the largest number in the region since 2008, most apparently connected to criminal activity associated with the region‚Äôs growing oil industry. The majority of attacks take place in Nigerian waters. But in January 2014, an oil tanker was hijacked by Nigerian pirates off the coast of Angola, prompting fears that the pirates may now be operating further south.
Unlike Somalia, the nations in the region have functioning governments and security forces. Despite the inadequate levels of protection so far provided, most of the attacks occur within territorial waters. There is therefore little prospect of foreign navies becoming involved, even if the resources were available.
Whereas the primary goal of Somali pirates has been to hijack ships and their crews in order to obtain ransom payments, the majority of incidents in West Africa have been motivated by theft (including entire oil cargoes) and have often been characterised by disturbingly high levels of violence, with some seafarers having tragically been killed.
Ships are strongly encouraged to use the Interim Guidelines on Protection against Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea Region, which were published jointly by ICS, BIMCO, Intercargo and Intertanko during 2013 (similar to those adopted for use in the Indian Ocean). However, the use of foreign armed security guards in these national waters remains highly problematic.
During 2013 there was some political progress amongst the Gulf of Guinea states with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement and a Code of Conduct on the fight against piracy, armed robbery and other illegal maritime activities. Plans to develop a permanent reporting centre based in Ghana to share information on piracy are also progressing. The centre developed by IMO, with assistance from the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), has now been tested and should go fully ‚Äòon line‚Äô during 2014. It will be incumbent on shipowners to submit reports of any incidents.