Piracy update–April 15, 2011

The first quarter of 2011 saw record numbers of pirate attacks, 142 of which 97 of the attacks (70%) occurred off the coast of Somalia, up from 35 in the same period last year. Attackers seized 18 vessels worldwide, including three big tankers, and captured 344 crew members. Pirates murdered seven crew members and injured 34 during the quarter.

But there have been some potentially important developments.

For the first time The FBI has indicted one of the men behind the pirates after capturing him in Somalia.  “Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,” of Somalia, was indicted on March 8, 2011, by a federal grand jury in Norfolk, Va., in association with the alleged pirating of an American yacht, the S/V Quest, and taking hostage four U.S. citizens, who were ultimately killed before their release could be secured. The indictment remained sealed until Shibin made a court appearance on April 13, 2011. Fourteen co-conspirators were indicted the same day and are awaiting a jury trial currently scheduled to begin on Nov. 29, 2011.”

Where to imprison pirates has been problematic for most countries leading to a “catch and release” approach, but the UN is working with elements in Somalia to open three prisons for convicted pirates. One is open now and two more are planned, but the new prison will only accept pirates from Somaliland, the most stable of three regions in Somalia. The second prison is planned for Puntaland, location of the third has not been chosen. The UN Security Council is also looking for ways to set up Somali courts to try those accused of piracy.

Operationally there has also been some good news.https://chuckhillscgblog.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/800px-esbern_snare_baltops_2010c.jpg?w=300

April 2, the Danish Navy command and support ship HDMS Esbern Snare, 6,300 tons (right) stopped aFile:Minelayer Pohjanmaa Suomenlinna 6.JPGnd boarded a Iranian F/V being used as a pirate mother-ship, freeing 18 hostages and taking 15 suspected pirates into custody after a firefight that result in the wounding of three suspected pirates.


The Finnish Navy minelayer and command ship FNS Pohjanmaa, 1,450 tons (left), seized a Dhow that was being used as a pirate mother ship on April 6 and after an investigation, destroyed it on April 9. 18 suspected pirates were detained. Continue reading

Piracy, Indian Navy and Coast Guard Score Again

For the forth time this year, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard has taken down a pirate mother-ship. Responding to an attack in progress on the merchant ship MV Maersk Kensington, they not only foiled the attack, they went on to capture 16 pirates and free the 16 crewmen being held as hostages on the mother-ship, a previously pirated Iranian trawler. Eaglespeak has the details and pictures. The Indians seem to have an effective ROE.

Previous incidents were reported here, here, and here. Just an impression, but I suspect the Indians have figured out if you target the fuel drums on the mother ships, everyone will quickly abandon ship.

S. Koreans Retake Pirate Mothership, Free Hostages, Kill 8, Capture 5

Some refreshing news on the piracy front. In what must be seen as a unique operation, S. Korean forces stormed a ship, the Samho Jewelry, that had been in the control of pirates for six days, and in a five hour firefight, which included supporting fire from a helicopter and a destroyer, the Choi Young, retook the ship, freed the hostages, killed eight pirates and captured five. Three South Korean military were wounded and one of the hostages wounded, shot in the stomach by a pirate. The ship was also being used as a mothership. So take it, also protects other shipping.

The intensity of the five hour firefight is evident in pictures of the ship in this video. Hundreds if not thousands of rounds were fired, many appear to be heavier than small arms, perhaps 30 mm from the destroyer’s Goalkeeper CIWS which uses the same gun installed on the A-10. The superstructure is riddled with bullet holes. (Photos in this AP article)

This case illustrates the complexity, globalization has brought to the shipping industry. This ship was Maltese flagged, Norwegian owned, S. Korean operated, with a crew of 11 Burmese, eight South Koreans and two Indonesians. Is it any wonder it is hard to figure out who is responsible. I think the old concept that piracy is a universal crime against all flags, has to be applied. We all have a dog in this fight.

In a more familiar scenario, Malaysian commandos retook a vessel under attack by pirates after the crew had taken refuge in a citadel.

Meanwhile the AP reports, “On Thursday, pirates seized the MV Hoang Son Sun, a Vietnamese-owned bulk carrier with a crew of 24, the European Union Naval Force said. The Mongolian-flagged ship…was boarded about 520 miles (840 kilometers) southeast of the port of Muscat, Oman…There are now 29 vessels and 703 hostages being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia.”

Innovations in Piracy?

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.

Pirates Foiled by Best Practices

The Beluga Fortune, one of the three ships we reported taken by pirates over the weekend, has been retaken as a result of the crews use of recommended countermeasures.

The US Naval Institute Blog has more details on the recapture, facilitated by HMS Montrose (a 4300 ton British Type 23 frigate–same size as the NSC). They also discuss the latest information on best practices for mariners to avoid being taken by pirates, now published as a 78 page pamphlet entitled “BMP3, Best Management Practice 3, Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and Arabian Sea Area.” A pdf copy of the manual is available here: http://www.mschoa.org/bmp3/Documents/BMP3%20Final_low.pdf

Somali Pirates Capture Three Ships in Two Days

NATO reports three vessels October 23/24, a Dhow; the YORK, a Singapore flagged 5,076-ton LPG tanker en route from Mombasa, Kenya to the Seychelles, was carrying 17 crew, including a German master, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos, and the BELUGA FORTUNE a cargo ship under charter to a German company bound from the United Arab Emirates to South Africa have been seized in two days.

It appears a South Korean flag crab boat, the GOLDEN WAVE, seized on October 9, was used as the mother ship for seizure of the YORK. When the GOLDEN WAVE was seized, she had on board 43 people, two S. Korean, two Chinese, and 37 Kenyans.

Reportedly pirates are currently holding 20 vessels and and 428 hostages.

If you would like to keep up with what is happening with regard to piracy in the Indian Ocean, it looks like “Eagle Speak” is a good source.

Raw Data is available from the NATO site here.

GAO Reports on Piracy Countermeasures–Not Complimentary

The GAO did a study of US anti-piracy efforts and the results are not good.

“…from 2007 to 2009, the most recent year for which complete data were available, the total number of hijackings reported to the International Maritime Bureau increased, ransoms paid by the shipping industry increased sharply, and attacks spread from the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden–the focus of the Action Plan–to the vast Indian Ocean.”

Seems we don’t know how much piracy costs or how much our countermeasures cost. We have made some progress in international cooperation, but we haven’t done very well at coordinating efforts within the US government.

At least one commentator thinks the process of learning to work internationally may be more important than the actual results. He also kicked off some additional discussion here and here, including discussion of how this reflects on the Cooperative Strategy 21. (It does look like the Brits are showing some initiative.)

The Coast Guard has already been deeply involved in this issue, from LEDETs on scene to recommending best practices to mariners, and if it ever to be successfully addressed, it will be part of the solution.

Piracy Countermeasures

Reuters is reporting some new countermeasures are emerging in response to piracy in the Indian Ocean. .

First there is the idea of providing a “panic room” where the crew can take refuge, preventing the pirates from taking them as hostages before help can arrive and the second is the possibility of contracted security or, “private navies.”

“The ships will be armed with deck mounted machine guns, more formidable than anything currently used by the pirates. They may also have unmanned drones and a small airship for surveillance.”

Using the engine room as a “panic room” made possible the recapture of the Antigua-Barbuda-flagged, German–owned vessel M/V Magellan Star by U. S. Marines from USS Dubuque (LPD 8).

Referring to “panic rooms” or “citadels” the article talks about the “need to be bullet-proof, contain food stocks, communications equipment and ideally a system to immobilize the ship.”

I don’t think anyone is armoring bulkheads to make them bullet proof, but water tight bulkheads and substantial chunks of steel like engine blocks can provide a lot of protection.

Provision for comms is important. In the case of the Magellan Star the only communication was by cell phone and the battery died just before the Marines assaulted, meaning it was several hours before the Marines were able to let the crew know they had been rescued and the Marines had to damage the ship the to reach the crew.