2014 has been a pretty eventful year with respect to pirate activities, seeing a tragic end with a crew member of a Vietnamese tanker VP Asphalt 2 being killed in a hijacking attack off the eastern coast of Malaysia in December.
On the other hand, pirate suspects being taken before European courts were given compensation for not being presented “promptly” before a judge resulting in human rights violation.
All in all, media reports on pirate related stories stirred up the public opinion from the offset and throughout.
As we wanted to learn about the hottest piracy spots with major incidents in 2014 along with trends and tactics adopted by pirates, World Maritime News spoke with Mr Mike Edey, Head of Intelligence at Dryad Maritime, UK’s leading maritime intelligence provider to find out more.
WMN: Recently you said that a pattern in piracy incidents in South East (SE) Asia is emerging, which may indicate that hijackers are well informed of tanker movements, maybe even too well. Have you acquired any new data?
Edey: The small tankers that are being taken all sailed from Singapore. The same company has been targeted on a couple of occasions, for example the Oarpin 2 & 4 both belonging to Thai Petroleum Tankers Company Ltd.
Recently, we have seen evidence that the pirates have incorrectly targeted tankers carrying bitumen or other types of oil. VP Asphalt 2 on December 6th 2014 and New Glory on May 25th 2014 both had bitumen but also Sri Kandi 151 had a cargo of palm oil. Thai authorities later recovered the ship with the cargo intact and detained eight personnel.
WMN: Can these incidents be connected to the crew? Or is there another reason behind them? What does the analysis show?
Edey: The crewmembers are the ones that face the pirates, who risk being shot, injured or kidnapped. While there is some evidence that this might occasionally be the case, I would disagree that in the vast number of case can crew complicity be shown.
There is the possibility of senior crew being complicit as in the case of Naniwa Maru No.1 in April 2014. It is more likely the information is coming from someone working in the petrochemical sector in Singapore but, as already mentioned, there is evidence that not all these attacks are intelligence led as tankers with the wrong type of product have been targeted.
WMN: Is SE Asia still the hottest piracy spot?
Edey: Yes. The area has seen the higher number of major incidents in 2014 with 18 hijacks (not all cargo theft) and mostly near or in the Singapore Strait. However, the Gulf of Guinea has seen a significant number of sailors kidnapped in 2014.
WMN: What is fuelling the increasing number of pirate attacks in SE Asia?
Edey: Indonesian fuel crime is well documented, fuelled by the country’s subsidized prices. This helps provide a ready market for the pirated fuel. The recent increase suggests that one gang have developed a successful operating pattern of targeting small tankers and have the resources to dispose of the fuel quickly.
It is likely that further attacks will occur, unless the authorities successfully capture and prosecute the culprits. In summary, there is a thriving black market giving a good return and little chance of being caught.
WMN: What routes are the most dangerous for shippers?
Edey: Depends on the definition of “dangerous” – the GoG has the highest rate of kidnap. On the other hand, the Singapore Strait has the highest number of incidents.
However, put this in perspective, the vast majority of crime in the area is petty theft [about 75%]. The majority of shipping types have little to fear but if I was a small (less than 4000 GRT) tanker operator working out of Singapore I would be reviewing my security plans and provision in some detail.
Speaking of the tactics adopted by pirates and their tendency to resort to violence, Edey said that violence has always been a part of piracy.
“However, we have not yet seen the whole scale disappearance/slaughter of entire ships crews that took place in the late 90’s,” he added.
With respect to tactics adopted by organized criminals at sea both in terms of piracy and people trafficking, Edey commented that he tactics have not really changed just the volume that stretched the authorities to deal with it.
WMN: What is the overall situation with respect to piracy figures? Is the number lower or under reported?
Edey: The number of official reports of piracy are under reported. However, there are also a great number of claims of incidents that on subsequent investigation can be shown not to be piracy.
UKMTO has been issuing ‘advisories’, passing on reports of incidents that ships have reported but have no evidence of piracy. If mariners experienced these situations in any other part of the world then the Indian Ocean they would be accepted as a natural part of life at sea but because they occur in the IO they become “piracy” related.
WMN: A recent pirate attack in the Gulf of Guinea showed that West Africa’s pirates are adopting open-ocean ambush tactics previously used only by Somali pirates. Does this suggest that there is a correlating factor connecting these two groups?
Edey: No. But they will learn from each other. All criminals will look for an easier victim. We saw Somali piracy move from the Gulf of Aden to the wider Indian Ocean as naval forces commenced patrols and MVs became more wary. Nigeria appears to have done a good job in reducing attacks off Lagos so the criminals have moved elsewhere.
Due to a lack of resource no police force or coastguard can be everywhere at once.
WMN: We have seen terrorist organization Al-Qaeda threaten ocean choke points and Australia’s overseas oil supplies. Are these threats to be taken seriously and are the so called terrorist groups emerging as the new pirates?
Edey: Terrorists are not pirate by the very definition. Piracy is for commercial gain, terrorism is on the whole for political gain. AQ have threatened these areas before and will do again. It takes a great deal of effort to close a choke point. The 2010 attack of the MV M Star in the Strait of Hormuz did minimal damage and has had no impact on the movement of oil in the region.
Successful maritime terrorism attacks are far more difficult to conduct than is commonly portrayed.
WMN: We are witnessing an increasing interest in development of anti-piracy software solutions. How effective can these be in avoiding pirate attacks?
Edey: I am not in a position to comment as I have not used any or seen them in action. However, I believe that piracy and maritime crime are low-tech threats and the majority of attacks can be defeated by understanding the threat, improved vigilance and low-tech and low cost solutions.