A worrying trend in the increasing intensity and ferocity of pirate attacks on commercial shipping vessels has put the regional shipping industry on high alert, as attacks on container, vehicle and general cargo ships continue to rise.
Ship Master's, pilots and crew are being warned to be vigilant on the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea by the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Alert service.
North Korea's MV Dai Hong Dan cargo vessel was violently hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia late last month. A US Navy destroyer tracked the MV Dai Hong Dan after engaging pirates who had hijacked the vessel, helping the crew to regain control. Three seriously injured crew members have since been transferred to a naval vessel for treatment. Reports from the crew suggest five pirates were captured and two were killed when the US Navy recaptured the ship. The vessel subsequently docked in the Red Sea Port of Aden, in southern Yemen on November 5th.
The most dangerous hot spots identified by the IMB in the Africa/Middle East region remain the coastal waters of Somalia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya, where vessels have repeatedly been shot at, boarded by pirates armed with automatic rifles, and even come under attack from rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPGs).
In Nigerian waters the IMB report states that crew are at risk from violent attack, with a heightened risk of kidnap and theft, and in Tanzania ships are being targeted whilst in port or at anchor.
Somalia remains the most dangerous place in the region though, with 26 actual and attempted attacks reported to the IMB so far this year. Many more attacks may have gone unreported. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre warns the pirates in these waters should be considered extremely dangerous and have consistently been known to fire automatic weapons at ships to stop them. One of the most worrying developments is the increase in the use of assault weapons such as RPG launchers, which have been used on ships this year.
The tactics being used by these pirates have evolved from the single vessel attack favoured in the past, and have become more sophisticated to raise chances of evasion and escape. The current trend is for groups to use "mother vessels" to launch attacks at very far distance from coast. This "mother vessel" is able to proceed to very far out to sea to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships.
Vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia have been warned to keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast, ideally more than 200 nautical miles.
The attacks are not restricted to African waters, and the growing intensity and violent methods should concern Middle Eastern shippers as piracy activity increases in the region. Last month on the Shatt Al Arab River in Iran, pirates armed with AK-47 automatic rifles boarded a container ship underway. The Ship Master, 2nd Officer and pilot were taken as hostages. The alarm was raised by another crew member that was subsequently fired at, although fortunately escaped. The pirates robbed the crew of cash and property before escaping in their speedboat.
Just this week in the Gulf of Aden, a vehicle carrier underway spotted three suspicious boats on its starboard side and one on the port side and took preventative measures until the trailing crafts dispersed.
Also this week, the alarm was raised aboard a reefer in the Arabian Gulf after a suspicious craft paralleled course but seemed deterred and left after following a 15-minute chase.
Mariners are urged to report any suspicious boats to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre which can be contacted on +60 3 2031 0014.