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Sun 6 Feb 2011 01:57 PM

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Pirate attacks a ‘365-day, 12-month’ threat in Gulf

Rise in maritime hijackings expected in 2011, ransom demands have doubled since 2008 to $5m

Pirate attacks a ‘365-day, 12-month’ threat in Gulf
The Gulf has seen a spate of hijackings off the coast of Oman in recent months
Pirate attacks a ‘365-day, 12-month’ threat in Gulf
The Gulf has seen a spate of hijackings off the coast of Oman in recent months

The hijacking of ships by pirates has risen to such an extent that there is now no safe passage out of the Arabian Gulf, an analyst has said.

Pirate attacks are rising in number, spreading in reach and are thwarting naval attempts to clamp down on their operations, said Jonathan Wood, a global issues analyst at Control Risks.

“The advent of 365-day, 12-month piracy may well be upon us,” he told Arabian Business.

“Over the course of this year we certainly expect it to continue and become much more of a concern directly to this region now that there is truly no safe passage out of the Arabian Gulf to the East or the West,” said Wood.

The Gulf has seen a spate of hijackings off the coast of Oman in recent months. At last count, Somalian pirates held 27 ships and more than 609 hostages.

During the first six months of 2010 there were 240 pirate incidences, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

 “We’ve seen an escalation in terms of armed engagements between pirates and onboard security teams and naval forces. We’ve seen attempts by pirates to damage ships, maltreat kidnapped crew and so on and we believe this is a trend unfortunately that will likely continue,” said Wood.

“The average length of a hostage period has increased from 50 days in 2008 to 150 days in 2010 while ransom demands have risen from $1-2m in 2008 to $5-7m last year, both of which have significantly pushed up insurance premiums and the cost of private security,” said Wood.

At the heart of the problem is Somalia, a country that hasn’t had an effective government in place for almost two decades. This instability has allowed pirates to thrive in the waters off its shore linking Europe to Asia and Africa.

The Gulf of Aden, a body of water between Somalia and Yemen, is the main sea route between Europe and Asia. Tankers carrying Middle East oil through the Suez Canal must pass first through the Gulf of Aden.

Major oil and gas routes are likely to be significantly impacted as pirates become more brazen in their attempts, said Wood.

“The expansion of piracy into the Arabia Sea almost up to the Strait of Hormuz is beginning to pose a significant threat to some of the major oil supply routes,” he said.

“If we look further down the coast, at the Indian coastline where there is burgeoning offshore oil and gas exploration activity we believe it’s only a matter of time before Somali pirates begin to target those operations, which have vulnerable vessels attached to them, static assets and numerous potentially value hostages.”

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