Control Risks’ Maritime Risk Analysis team recorded a 10% increase in piracy and armed robbery at sea globally in 2015, driven by an increase in the number of cases recorded in South-east Asia and the Americas.
By contrast, activity levels in East and West Africa dropped, continuing the downward trend seen since 2011 and 2014 respectively. With the data for 2015 compiled, it is time to assess what we can expect in four key regions over the next 12 months.
Adapting to Security Presence
Piracy and armed robbery at sea will remain a key issue for shipping in South-east Asia in 2016, though local security responses will provoke a shift in the pattern of attacks. The surge in product and chemical tanker hijacks that began in April 2014 ended abruptly in August 2015 after a crackdown on fuel theft syndicates, including their ringleaders and assets in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
High levels of the most frequently reported incidents – theft and robbery involving ships underway in the Singapore Strait – were sustained until the end of September 2015, when activity dropped.
Increased patrols, coupled with lower fuel prices, mean that 2016 is likely to see a return to hijack numbers seen prior to 2014, with only sporadic vessel hijacks being recorded. The security force presence is also likely to result in fewer attacks by lowlevel criminal groups seeking to steal ship’s stores from commercial vessels transiting in the Singapore Strait, which drove the 26% increase in attacks in South-east Asia in 2015.
A concerted effort to tackle this crime in 2016 could see the first decrease in pirate activity for more than five years. Yet, as seen in previous years, such a response could see groups shift their activity to wider areas such as the South China Sea, and to vessels anchored off major ports.
In the Gulf of Guinea, a rise in violent attacks and offshore kidnaps around the Niger delta will be a key trend in 2016. Improved ship security measures and local security initiatives in regional ports have had an impact across the wider region. Together with changing dynamics onshore in Nigeria, this led to a welcome 26% drop in incidents across the region from 2014 to 2015, which followed a 12% decline between 2013 and 2014.
Yet the decrease seen over this period looks unlikely to continue. Following few reported incidents in the second half of 2015, January 2016 witnessed a sharp rise in attacks, with levels higher in the first month of 2016 than in any month in 2015.
The sudden increase in activity is linked closely to growing onshore instability in the Niger delta, the focal point of activity in the region, prompted by rising uncertainty over the future of the 2009 Niger delta amnesty programme for former militants. Criminal activity will increase both onshore and offshore as former militants and financially motivated criminal groups seek alternative sources of funds in the coming year.
Off East Africa, the absence of incidents linked to Somali piracy was the main story in2015. Major developments were linked to the reduction of risk areas by BIMCO and other international shipping associations, and Lloyd’s Market Association respectively, and concern over the future of naval and ship security provisions.
As pirate activity remains limited and priorities change, the remaining international naval forces, whose mandate extends to December 2016, will continue to shift their focus towards counter-narcotics and counterterrorism operations. A scaling back of naval deployments is already underway, but the international naval forces themselves will not disappear completely as new challenges emerge and evolve in the region.
The activity most likely to continue in 2016 is the targeting of foreign-flagged fishing vessels off the Somali coast.
Although often cited as pointing to the enduring threat of Somali piracy, 2015 has shown that the identity of groups involved in recent seizures has often been difficult to determine between coastal communities, local authorities and armed groups. Increased local pressure to address illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing off Somalia has exacerbated this problem.
Somali piracy will not return to the levels seen between 2008 and 2011 in 2016. Attacks on commercial shipping remain possible, but any cases are likely to be sporadic and shortlived. Nonetheless, shipping operators will find themselves more vulnerable should they begin to cut back on ship security measures, and as vessel routes move closer to the eastern Somali coast in the western Indian Ocean.
One to Watch
Maritime crime in the Americas is beginning to receive increased attention. Peru and Venezuela will particularly stand out in the year ahead, with both countries continuing to see high levels of violent crime in the maritime domain. The majority of cases of piracy and armed robbery at sea across the region are likely to continue to target local vessels and sailing yachts.
The commercial shipping industry in the region – including cargo vessels, tankers and cruise ships – has so far been more exposed to organised smuggling groups, and the legal and reputational implications of this activity. However, it is concerning that 52% of the 216 incidents that Control Risks registered across the region in 2015 were robberies.
Vessels and crews on merchant vessels in this region will continue to be vulnerable to opportunistic attacks in the year ahead.
SAMI provides an international independent non-governmental organization for the maritime security industry and a focal point for global maritime security matters. The SAMI membership is made up of international private maritime security companies from over 35 different nations, as well as equipment, technology and hardware providers exploring technical maritime security solutions.
SAMI provides an international independent non-governmental organization for the maritime security industry and a focal point for global maritime security matters.
The SAMI membership is made up of international private maritime security companies from over 35 different nations, as well as equipment, technology and hardware providers exploring technical maritime security solutions. www.seasecurity.org
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