News Blogmaritime piracy

The pirates return to the attack before New Year's Eve: 2 captures (Shift)

(BRUSSELS2) The pirates had been fairly calm in the Gulf of Aden for two or three weeks. We were rather in a “destocking” phase. This is no longer the case since Christmas when we are witnessing a “reawakening” of pirates…

View of the Gulf from the Belgian frigate Louise Marie (photo credit: Belgian Navy)

Since the beginning of December, several ships have in fact been freed by pirates for a total gain that can be estimated at at least $10 million. So it was with the Greek ship MV Ariana, on December 10, released against a ransom of $2,5 million; of the chinese ship By Xin Hai, released on Sunday (December 27) against a ransom of $4 million (he had been captured on October 19 between the Seychelles and the Maldives), and, lastly, Kota Wajar, a ship flying the flag of Singapore, released on Monday for a ransom of $4 million (it had been captured on October 15, far south of the usual zone, off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya). Upon its release, the Kota Wajar received assistance (medical, food, water, etc.) from the Canadian frigate Fredericton (part of the NATO force).

The “awakening” of pirates

But several successes can also be attributed to the pirates. On Monday, in quick succession, two ships were captured in two different locations, captures confirmed by EUNAVFOR Atalanta (the European anti-piracy operation) HQ in London.

Off the Seychelles

A bulk carrier from a Greek shipowner, the Navios Apollo was captured while the ship was en route to India. The ship came from Tampa in Florida (USA) and was transporting fertilizers according to its owner (Navios Maritime Partners), cited by Greek agencies. It included 19 crew members (a Greek captain and 18 Filipinos). According to a procedure that has become classic, around ten pirates aboard two skiffs managed to board, 240 nautical miles north-north-east of the island of Victoria (Seychelles). The boat has now been spotted by a EUNAVFOR maritime patrol aircraft 180 miles north of the Seychelles en route to Somalia.

In the protected corridor of the Gulf of Aden

It is a chemical tanker, flying the British flag, the St James Park which was captured, also on Monday, with 26 men on board (6 Indians, 5 Bulgarians, 3 Filipinos, 3 Russians, 3 Turks, 2 Romanians, 2 Ukrainians, 1 Pole, 1 Georgian). The ship, which was going from Spain to Thailand, was diverted and also headed for Somalia and is followed remotely by EUNAVFOR forces. It was registered in the EU maritime base, MSCHOA. He was sailing in the corridor monitored by the multinational forces (IRTC) but was not escorted. According to CTF-151, he did not activate the alarm system in time to allow an intervention by a military vessel (see below).

The St James Park was spotted near from the Somali port of Hobyo, refuge of pirates, by Eunavfor (photo credit: Eunavfor)

Note: The Yemeni coast guard also announced the seizure of a fishing cargo ship, the Al Mahmoud 2, which left the port of Aden on December 18. with a crew of 15 people on board (all Yemenis), according to the agency Saba news. The ship was reportedly seized off the coast of Puntland (Somalia) around Christmas.

A first failure in the corridor for the anti-piracy forces: several explanations

The attack of St James Park is particularly noteworthy because it is the second British crew or ship in the hands of the pirates (with the Chandler couple) but, above all, because it operates in an area particularly monitored by multinational forces. The Gulf of Aden corridor has an undeniable success, it must be recognized: no successful attack has, in fact, taken place in this corridor during the last six months. “SAlthough the number of pirate attacks in this area remained the same (102 attacks in 2008, 101 attacks in 2009), the success rate fell from 65% to 17%. “Comments an official of the CTF 151.

Too late a radio alert

« When the MV St James Park was attacked, two warships were ready to respond. » explains CTF 151. “But, unfortunately, St James Park did not have the opportunity to activate the radio alert system. Coalition ships were therefore not warned of the attack until the pirates took possession of the ship. ". It is only then that “the Security Alert System (SSAS) has been activated. A ship (American) of CTF-151, the USS Chosin (CG 65), was then able to confirm, during a radio exchange, that the pirates had indeed taken control of the ship. (1).

USS Chosin (CG 65) photo credit: Us Navy

The end of year celebrations

There may also be another explanation. With the end-of-year holidays, there are fewer warships available, particularly Western ones (EU, NATO, CTF), in the area. And several of them were resupplying in ports, or completing an escort to recently liberated merchant ships. Attention was therefore a little more relaxed. Which, combined with an “error”, technical or human, on the part of the crew of the St James as well as the refinement of the pirates' techniques can also explain this capture.

NB: it is the Russians and Chinese who currently mainly provide escort and transit of ships in the corridor (the Chinese until the beginning of January, the Russians thereafter).

Refinement of pirate techniques

It seems, in fact, that the pirates are taking advantage of the liberation of certain ships and the mobilization of others, to increase attacks in remote places, deserted by the navies. In this, they use good old smuggling techniques: stretching the scope of their action, attracting police forces in one place, to attack in another. I could, of course, be wrong... But what seems certain is that the pirates have a network of informants in several African or Arab ports: Mombasa (Kenya), Djibouti, Aden (Yemen)... to the point that The European force EUNAVFOR has issued several recommendations to ships calling at these ports to be very discreet, particularly in the use of on-board radio (VHF).

(1) “When M/V St James Park was attacked, two warships were in a position to respond, but regrettably it appears that the M/V St James Park was unable to provide an alert via bridge-to-bridge radio. Coalition ships were not alerted to the attack until the SSAS signal was activated by the crew after the ship was pirated. (…) After receiving a signal from the M/V ST James Park's Ship Security Alert System (SSAS), USS Chosin (CG 65), operating as the flagship to Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), was able to confirm via bridge-to- bridge radio that pirates had taken control of the vessel.”

On the balance sheet 2009 (still provisional, two days left!)

According to Atalanta HQ, until the last Christmas captures, the toll was 8 ships and 213 people in the hands of pirates. According to the NGO Ecoterra, based in Kenya, the toll is slightly different, there were up to as of Monday's capture: 10 ships and 11 crews (the British yacht Lynn Rival, abandoned by pirates, was recovered by the Navy) and 228 people (including the British couple Chandler). Explanation for this difference: Ecoterra recorded the capture of an unknown barge and the Yemeni fishing vessel.

With the latest catches, there are thus between 11 and 12 ships and 273 people in the hands of pirates, including – according to my count – around twenty European Union nationals = 2 British (the Chandler couple), 10 Greeks, 5 Bulgarians, 3 Romanians, 1 Pole.

For the year 2009, there are currently 44 ship captures by pirates. An assessment ultimately equivalent to that of 2008 when there were 43 captures for 128 attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau. For its part, Ecoterra records: 66 captures out of 223 attacks in 2009 and 49 captures out of 134 attacks in 2008.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).