Mogadishu, March 28 The cat and mouse game between international navies from a dozen countries and Somali pirates continues. Last week, in the biggest attacks of 2009, two European tankers were hijacked in a twenty four hour period, prompting Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme in Kenya to say, “The pirates are showing they are very much alive”. Others were more forthright. A diplomat who tracks piracy information is quoted as having said, in an obvious dig at the navies of the United States, the European Union, Russia, India, China and Japan: "Once again, the Somali pirates are making fools of all of them."
Last Wednesday, two chemical tankers, reported to be the ‘Bow Asir’ and the ‘MV Nipayia’, were hijacked in the open waters South and East of Somalia. More vessels were attacked over the same twenty four hour period. The news came even as observers had claimed in recent times that the success rate of attacks had come down, partly due to maritime patrols and convoys, particularly in the Gulf of Aden, but also partly due to greater vigilance and anti piracy measures by ship crews.
The 9,000 tonne MT Nipayia is a Greek owned and Panama registered ship. Reported to have 19 crew on aboard, she was reportedly attacked and overcome about 450 miles South East of Somalia. Conflicting reports are emerging as regards her cargo, some claiming that she was carrying lubes and others stating she is in ballast. The MT Bow Asir, believed to be carrying caustic soda, is Norwegian owned and Bahamian registered, and was hijacked around 250 miles off Somalia in the same general vicinity in the huge Indian Ocean. She is reported to have a crew of 23. Both ships are reportedly heading for the infamous pirate bases of Eyl or Hobyo on Somalia’s east coast at the time of writing this report.
Salhus Shipping AS, owners of the Bow Asir, told Reuters that it had received a security alert from the ship saying it was being chased by two small boats. Confirmation of this attack was received later; it is now believed that about 18 heavily armed pirates boarded the vessel and seized her. No ransom demands have been received, and the crew is reported unhurt.
These two hijackings mark the biggest successful attacks since the Sirius Star incident. It has become clear in recent weeks that pirates are shifting their operations away from the heavily patrolled areas around the Gulf of Aden and attacking ships in the vast Indian Ocean, effectively choosing low risk areas. Analysts are particularly concerned about the waters near Seychelles, which threatens to become a favoured hunting ground for pirates operating from mother ships. A yacht en route to Madagascar was hijacked from near the Seychelles with two men on board not so long ago. Another ship, the ‘Preventor’ defended itself 450 nautical miles southeast of Dar es Salam with water cannon and evasive manoeuvres recently.
In the aftermath of the ‘Nipaya’ attack, Greece has called on the navies of the EU to play a more active role in cracking down on piracy, ‘The Australian’ reports. A Minister said that navies should "expand the rules of engagement and the area patrolled by the European naval force". Coalition forces including the US navy point to the difficulties in patrolling the gigantic region. Officers in the US task force CTF 151 have indicated that between 12 and 16 coalition warships and others from non coalition navies are on patrol in the Gulf of Aden and the Maritime Safety corridor at any given time. CTF 151 operates primarily in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea, but naval officials say that even this region required 61 naval warships if it is to be patrolled effectively.
Jane Campbell of the US 5th fleet told journalists that monitoring an area as large as the Indian Ocean is very complex. That may well be an understatement; another US official called it a ‘monumental challenge’. “To put the challenge into geographic perspective, the area involved off the coast of Somalia and Kenya as well as the Gulf of Aden equals more than 1.1 million square miles,” he said. “That is roughly four times the size of the U.S. state of Texas, or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined.”
Clearly, Somali pirates are proving to be more nimble than the navies of the world.