With last week's hijack of the Maltese registered ‘Frisia’ coming on top of a couple of other unexplained incidents covered in this magazine, there can be little doubt now that Somali pirates/terrorists have moved their operations much closer to India than hitherto imagined: the Frisia was taken approximately 1100 miles from the Somali pirate bases, “much closer to India than Somalia’ as Cdr John Harbour of the EU’s anti piracy naval task force says, pointing out that the Turkish ship hijack marked ‘a major increase in the pirates’ range’. The area where the Frisia was taken is about 400 nm outside the normal EU NAVFOR operation area. Equally worrying is the fact, as reported in the Turkish media, that the 35,000 DWT Frisia is carrying an undisclosed amount of fertiliser. If the shipment is nitrogen based, it can be used to make explosives and IEDs.
"The EU, NATO and combined maritime forces have been taking the fight to the pirates," Cdr. Harbour told the BBC. "We've tried to stop them getting off the beaches; when they've got to the Indian Ocean, we've been very aggressive in targeting the individuals and disrupting pirate activity." The EU says that the 35,000 tonne Frisia, earlier sailing east, has now turned around and is probably heading for a Somali pirate haven. She has 19 Turks and 2 Ukrainians aboard. Meanwhile, NATO has advised vessels navigating in the Indian Ocean to consider keeping east of 60E and South of 10S whenever possible.
In the second hijack on the same day, the Bermuda flagged MV Talca was hijacked off the coast of Oman as she was heading from Egypt to Iran. The Virgin Islands owned 11000 tonne vessel had already cleared the International Recommended Transit Corridor when she was taken. She has a crew of 25, the majority from Sri Lanka, and one each from the Philippines and Syria.
Interestingly, the US DOT MARAD has recently issued a terrorist warning. Posted on the Web site of the Office of Naval Intelligence and dated March 10, it says that Al Qaida ‘remains interested in maritime attacks in the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen’, adding that any assault may be similar to the suicide attacks on the USS Cole or the tanker Limburg. (A small to mid-size boat laden with explosives was detonated in both incidents). “Other more sophisticated methods of attack could include missiles or projectiles. Although the time and location of such an attack are unknown, ships in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen are at the greatest risk of becoming targets of such an attack”, the warning says. “Vessels are at greatest risk in areas of restricted manoeuvrability, and while in/near port or at anchor”.
The Indian authorities need to act now, because it appears that the security situation off the country’s Western coastline is deteriorating fast. Clearly, the patrolling navies will have to do more than they are currently doing: their ‘aggression’ often consists of boarding a bunch of pirate craft if at all they find them, throwing pirate weapons overboard or confiscating them, sinking all boats but one in which the pirates are released and allowed to sail happily back home.