A recent pirate attack may signal changes in the nature of Somali Piracy. The European Union Naval Force reports, during the night, November 6, the Spanish corvette INFANTA CRISTINA, escorting an African Union Military Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) supply ship, the MV Petra I, was attacked by a vessel identified as the MV IZUMI, a ship that had itself been pirated on Oct. 10. (“Since…December 2008, EU NAVFOR has conducted 86 World Food Programme escorts and 71 escorts for AMISOM.”)
The best analysis I have found is here. This post includes photos of the three ships involved. The things that made this attack different were:
- The pirates attacked directly from a relatively large cargo vessel that still had hostages on board, rather than from boats.
- Because the hostages were still aboard the attacking ship, the escorting vessel had to limit its return fire.
- This is the first attack on an EU escort ship.
- At least one blog states that these pirates originated from a port controlled by Al Shabaab, a group that appears to be winning the civil war in Somalia and has been associated with Al Qaeda. Other than speculation, if this is true, its the first evidence I have seen that pirates are associated with this group. The blog further suggest that the aim of the operation was to cut off supplies to the African Union Forces that oppose Al Shabaab and that the pirate vessel attempted to ram the Spanish corvette (a relatively small ship, at less than 1,500 tons, smaller than a 270).
If pirates start staging attacks directly from larger ships, it will allow them to attack larger ships with greater freeboard. It may make it possible to conduct attacks in weather that precludes attacks by boats. It will almost certainly require different countermeasures on the part of the merchant ships.
Its possible these events may be being misinterpreted. Its possible the encounter was unintentional, that the choice of a AMISON ship was random, and that the small warship was not recognized in the dark. However, if it is proven an Al Queda associated group is using piracy to further its aims, it will radically change US perception of the importance of Somali piracy, which in economic terms, has been more nuisance than major problem.