Three vessels were hijacked in a twelve hour period last night. Two bulk carriers and a chemical tanker were seized by pirates and are currently heading for pirate bases on the Somali East coast.
In an attack on 19 August another tanker and her 28 crew were hijacked and taken to Somali waters. Attempts to contact the vessel have been unsuccessful.
In all cases incidents were reported to the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) via other vessels that received its distress call. The reports were promptly passed over to coalition naval vessels and the authorities in neighbouring countries.
This follows on from the attack which took place on 12 August 2008, when a general cargo ship was hijacked whilst underway in the busy shipping lane. The vessel was taken to Somali waters and anchored near the South Puntland border. Demands for a payment of ransom for the return of the 28 crew and the vessel have been made.
In addition to this most recent activity there have been four further hijackings since the beginning of June, one of which has been successful. Three more vessels have also been fired upon since that time.
IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan stated: "The situation in this region is extremely serious. We have not seen such a surge in pirate activity in this area previously. These pirates are not afraid to use significant firepower in attempts to bring vessels under their control. Over 260 seaferers have been taken hostage in Somalia this year. Unless further action is taken, seafarers remain in serious danger whilst navigating the Gulf of Aden."
In all reported instances, vessels have been approached by speedboats containing men armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers. In their attempts to slow down and board the vessels, the pirates have opened fire against the unarmed merchant ships.
It is understood that coalition warships have intervened and helped prevent two of the attacks. This is in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1816 (2008) that allows states cooperating with Somalia to enter its territorial waters in order to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery "by all necessary means".
Mr Mukundan continued: "Whilst the intervention of coalition navies has helped in isolated cases, it is by no means a long-term solution. It is clear that the threat or presence of coalition navies has done little to stem the tide of attacks in this region."
Somalia, without a central government since 1991, does not have the capacity to interdict pirates or patrol its coastline. Recently, in 2007, there was a spate of attacks off the Horn of Africa, where it is understood that pirates were using a mother-ship from which to launch attacks on vessels up to 200nm off the coast. In 2008 it would appear that the pirate gangs are operating more off the northern coast in the Gulf of Aden where there is a greater proximity to shore and quick access to the many vessels passing south through the Suez canal.
The IMB advises that Masters maintain strict 24-hour piracy watches and be especially wary of any approaching smaller craft. The IMB urges the reporting of all actual or attempted attacks, as well as any suspicious vessel movements, to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC). Such information could be vital intelligence for other Masters navigating in this area.