Unosat issues Global Report on Maritime Piracy

A geospatial analysis 1995-2013

Unosat issued a report on Maritime Piracy identifying several important trends related to maritime security.

Based on a refined and detailed analysis of primarily data from International Maritime Organization (IMO) Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) «Piracy and Armed Robbery» module UNITAR has been able to explore how trends in geospatial patterns and severity of reported piracy incidents are developing, from 1995 to 2013. Some detailed geospatial analyses focus on the period 2006-2013 due to improved records for geo-locating incidents.

The analysis includes the added cost of piracy for the maritime industry at a global level and how these are linked to anti-piracy initiatives. Furthermore, costs related to paid ransoms and effects on the local economy in piracy land-bases are explored. There are two areas where significant trends in piracy activities are observed: the Western Indian Ocean, including the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea. In other areas, notably eastern Indian Ocean, including the Malacca Strait, and in South America, no major trends are observed. While activities in South America are relatively minor, piracy in the Malacca Strait continues to be a major disruptor for safe routes in the eastern Indian Ocean.

Main observations for the Western Indian Ocean:
  • There has been a significant reduction in the number of pirate attacks during 2013 ‚Äì to the extent one can claim they have almost stopped (28 incidents in 2013, of which only 8 since 15th August). Not a single vessel was hijacked;
  • The median distance from where an attack is reported to the nearest coast has dropped from close to 400 km in 2010 to under 50 km in 2013, thus indicating a considerable reduction in the radius of successful pirate activities;
  • Incidents involving the use of rocket propelled grenades, relatively heavy armour for pirates, has decreased from 43 in 2011 to 3 in 2013;
  • Ransom amounts paid to pirates have decreased from US$150M in 2011 to about US$60M in 2012;
  • In addition to the well-known feature of piracy ‚Äúmother ships‚Äù from which fast-going skiffs can radiate, a new trend of floating armoury vessels supplying anti-piracy entities with weapons out in international waters is observed.




Main onservations for the Gulf of Guinea:
  • In the Gulf of Guinea, the trend is to some degree different of that in western Indian Ocean, although at a smaller scale in terms of number of attacks carried out:
  • The number of attacks show no sign of decreasing;
  • Attacks in the high seas have increased, while attacks in ports are on the decrease;
  • The types of attacks have gone from low-intensity towards more violent acts;
  • The Financial losses to the national economies for countries with ports in the Gulf of Guinea are considerable. This has forced certain countries to take military action that has proven successful.



In southeast Asia/Malacca, we observe a slight decrease although no significant trend in the number of attacks, or in their severity.

Following the detailed review of IMO’s database structure and in-depth data analysis, a “severity index” to better differentiate the gravity of reported incidents is proposed for future data collection and analysis. It is important to know that close to half of all piracy incidents reported globally are not what can be considered severe, i.e. no threat of violence has been reported.

With studies indicating a significant shift of the centre of gravity for marine activities to Asia, finding solutions to reduce or end piracy is not only a major security issue, but an important economic factor. With changing climatic conditions at high latitudes and medium- to low-income countries in Asia experiencing the largest growth per capita, additional transport routes may be explored, including combined pipe-lines and secure area marine shipping routes.

The direct and indirect global cost

Threats against one of the world’s principal shipping routes provoked a level of international mobilisation never before seen. The Indian Ocean is a key transit route between Europe, Asia and Oceania. Although the flow of oil from the Gulf to the US may be decreasing, it is increasing to Asia, as are exports – in the other direction – to Europe. That is why the bottleneck in the Strait of Malacca, between Singapore and Indonesia, remains of major strategic importance. This passage is often preferred over others which are less insecure but shallower, requiring a more winding route.

Piracy is particularly costly for international shipowners in terms of security equipment, protection fees, danger money paid to crews, additional insurance premiums, the cost of being diverted off course, and additional fuel costs (to feed engines running at top speed).

But it is also expensive for the countries who intervene in these dangerous zones, who must bear the cost of deploying and maintaining military fleets, detection and intelligence, and the detention and trial of suspects. And some coastal countries which are victims of port or maritime crime suffer a fall in trade and tourism, and a reduction in subsidies and international aid.

The threat to tuna fishing and cruise ship tourism in the Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone led this small archipelago to get heavily involved in combating piracy. Money from piracy “laundered” by some Somali families buying property in the outskirts of Nairobi, in Kenya, has increased the cost of land there two or threefold.

This increased risk, which has risen in tandem with the average ransoms demanded, has created an incentive for insurers to propose specific anti-piracy cover. A new “Kidnap and Ransom” contract from Lloyd’s has been taken up by several insurers, particularly from the UK and the US. Its cost can vary from $1,500 to $100,000 per crossing, depending on the riskiness of the zone, the cargo, type of vessel, speed, protective equipment etc. This additional premium, which can amount to 0.5% of a ship’s value for a crossing on the Indian Ocean, includes cover for reimbursement of ransoms, fees for negotiators and intermediaries, the cost of repatriation, and the resulting loss of business. But while around half of the ships passing through the Gulf of Aden have anti-piracy cover, only 5% of ships crossing the Gulf of Guinea are insured against piracy attacks. But it has to be recalled that only a few dozen ships are victims of piracy out of roughly 20 000 merchant vessels yearly crossing the Indian Ocean. This means that 99 % of maritime traffick in this area did not suffer from piracy attacks.

On land or sea? A political or military solution?

Many Somali pirates are former coastguards looking for new opportunities. Some claim they were fishermen who had seen their resources dwindle as industrial fisheries plundered their waters (or polluted it by dumping waste from industrialised or emerging countries), although these claims are still disputed.

Some coastal countries, on the other hand, profit by making their infrastructure available in the fight against piracy, becoming military or judicial “hubs”. This is the case with Djibouti, Yemen, Mauritius and the Seychelles, which accommodate an air base with observation aircraft and drones, special forces on board protection teams, private guards for Spanish trawler-purse seiners, a court room and a prison reserved for Somali suspects and prisoners, prefiguring a Regional Antipirate Prosecution Intelligence Centre (RAPIC) within the framework of the Indian Ocean Commission.

In Somalia, where pirate gangs had seven ships and 113 crew in March 2013, and 51 crew in September 2013, the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohammed, has extended the hand of friendship. Through the intermediary of clan elders, he has offered an amnesty and professional retraining for young people who renounce piracy, setting up a kind of “employment centre” for pirates. He has asked the international community to help him offer these poor young peasants and fishermen, attracted by the lucrative but dangerous prospects of piracy, “a different way to earn a living.”

Although the president in Mogadishu may not be in control of the whole country, and the initiative is controversial, it does reveal a growing desire to tackle problems at its root, for example living conditions in Somalia. The EU strongly supports this idea of solving problems internally, and other initiatives from coastal countries, through the Regional Maritime Security Programme (MASE), aimed at combating maritime piracy and its effects on the economies of eastern and southern Africa and the Indian Ocean (AfOA-OI).


During the week, there is no specific day on which attacks are more numerous than others; but we note that the least active day is Friday. But over a period of 24 hours, analysis shows that pirates act mostly during daytime, preferably early in the morning at first light. However attacks can occur at night, but only when weather conditions are good and a full moon gives sufficient visibility.

The yearly variation of meteorology has a dramatic effect on piracy; analysis over a period of 15 years shows that the number of attacks significantly reduce during the monsoon season. It is difficult to operate the small skiffs usually used by pirates in rough sea conditions.

The rise of “petro-piracy”

“Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings, cargo thefts and kidnappings,” remarks an AP file (15 April 2013). One of the main motives of the attackers in this region is fuel theft. The pirates’ area of activity, which has long been centered on the Nigerian coast and the Cameroonian Bakassi peninsula, now extends to Ivory Coast in the west, and Gabon in the east. In the first six months of 2013, the IMB reported some 30 attacks — including theft of oil cargoes, ship hijackings and crew kidnappings, of which two thirds were off the coast of Nigeria — but acknowledges that this is only an estimate. A naval officer from the subregion, quoted by the weekly Jeune Afrique on July 7th 2013, believes the real count for the region is more likely one attack per day.


Original Article