Gulf states including
the GCC and Oman must ramp up measures to fend off the growing problem of
marine pirate attacks, or risk becoming a hotbed for hijackings, analysts said.
Oman in August saw
two attacks on ships near the port of Salalah, with one tanker and crew
snatched from inside the port in front of the coast guard, and experts warn
these attacks may be the tip of the iceberg.
“The problem will only worsen in the short-term as the
Monsoon season is due to end in mid-September. The Gulf of Oman might be a new
area of focus, which will pose a concern for Emirati shipping interests which
must pass through the area,” said John Drake, a senior risk consultant at AKE
Piracy is a well-organised and highly lucrative business and
has expanded into a vast area off the coast of Somalia. An estimated $150m was
paid in ransoms for ships, cargoes and crews to pirate gangs last year, while a
record 1,181 seafarers were kidnapped, according to consultancy Dryad Maritime
“For the UAE, the problem must be carefully monitored and
ensure that it does not continue to expand into the Gulf of Oman,” said Tim Hart, maritime security analyst
from Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants. “If the problem isn’t
resolved and is allowed to continue it will encourage more potential pirates to
turn to the crime. They will go to greater and greater lengths to hijack
vessels, adapting to onboard precautions and potentially moving into areas they
had not previously operated in trying to find the more lucrative targets.”
Oman lies at the mouth of the Gulf, a strategic, heavily
patrolled waterway which channels a bulk of the world's crude shipments. Somali
pirates usually operate in Indian Ocean waters, but the waters around Salalah
have seen a rising number of attacks.
Several oil tankers have also been attacked in the
pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, with their valuable cargoes being used by pirates
to demand ransoms.
The potential risk will put shipping companies in the region
under increasing pressure to protect their crew and vessels from attacks, Drake
will have to implement risk management techniques, including the use of barbed
wire and safe-rooms. These measures will make it harder for pirates to gain
access to a ship and reach the crew, and significantly reduce the likelihood of
a vessel being seized.”
Recent incidents involving UAE ships include that of the MV
Jubba XX, a small oil tanker seized by pirates off the Yemen coast on its way
to port of Berbera in mid-July.
The tanker, which was released a few weeks later, was
carrying 3,500 tonnes of oil products and had a crew of 17 people.
It was the third UAE ship to be hijacked this year, in
addition to the MV Iceberg I, owned by the Dubai-based Azal Shipping, seized in
March, and an unknown vessel purportedly named the MV Al Nasri, which was
hijacked 35 miles outside the port of Bossaso in Puntland.
Analysts say piracy is a land-based problem, triggered by a
combination of poverty in a coastal community, lawlessness and increasing use
Somalia has lacked a functioning government for two decades.
The United Nations last month declared a famine in Somalia and said that 3.7
million people were in need of food assistance.
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