x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Violent African piracy on increase but UAE routes not directly impacted

Initiatives to counter armed maritime robbery are being discussed by the International Maritime Organisation's Maritime Safety Committee during a 10-day session in London that ends tomorrow.

DUBAI // The frequency of violent armed attacks on ships off the coast of Nigeria is a growing cause for concern in the international shipping community.

While the new hotspot does not directly impact UAE shipping routes, any instability in international waters is a concern for the entire community, local operators have said.

“We are happy now that in our area in the waters off UAE, Oman and towards India it’s all quieter, small or big all ships are safer,” said Ali Alvloushi, the head of Majellan Marine a charter services company.

“But piracy anywhere affects trade because the pirates want money so wherever piracy is, all ships must be careful. It affects everyone."

Initiatives to counter armed maritime robbery are being discussed by the International Maritime Organisation’s Maritime Safety Committee during a 10-day session in London that ends on Friday.

In the latest incident, five Pakistani crewmen kidnapped from an oil tanker off the Nigeria coast were released last month after payment of an undisclosed ransom amount.

Unlike Somali piracy off the east African coast, where hostages are held on vessels for more than two years until ransom is paid, incidents in the oil-producing Gulf of Guinea involve ships being held for a few hours or days.

But the attacks are more violent because the vessel is ransacked and released after being stripped of cargo, fuel and equipment.

Instances of kidnapping have risen, with crew held for a short period and released after the ransom is collected.

While piracy off Somalia has been reduced – largely due to patrolling by international navies – reports warn of an escalation in West African waters.

According to the International Maritime Bureau’s latest data (June 15), there were 120 reported attacks including four hijackings.

While there have been seven reported incidents including one hijacking off Somalia this year, there were as many as 22 attacks off Nigeria including one hijacking so far this year.

“The Gulf of Guinea represents an area of concern,” the IMB said in its earlier April report.

The report showed how global attacks declined in the first quarter of the year, with 66 incidents reported as opposed to 102 in the same period last year. There were only five attacks by Somali pirates in the first quarter of this year, compared to 43 attacks in the same period last year.

“The figures show a reduction in hijackings and attacks,” said Capt Pottengal Mukundan, the IMB director. “But crews must remain vigilant particularly in the highly dangerous waters off East and West Africa.”

The Nigerian Navy has called for regional and international dialogue to tackle the surge in violence. It announced last week (June 14) that three armoured boats would be added to its 25-strong patrol fleet to reduce sea robberies.

The International Maritime Organisation has also pledged its support to assist in the implementation of a new code of conduct to tackle attacks and piracy.

“We will work together to repress piracy, armed robbery against ships and other illicit maritime activity off the coasts of west and central Africa,” said Koji Sekimizu, the IMO secretary general.

rtalwar@thenational.ae