The rapid return of piracy

Experts are becoming increasingly concerned over the re-emergence of piracy off the West and East coasts of Africa following the publication of a new report revealing the scale of the increase. 

There has been a significant rise in attacks off West Africa and in the waters of the Gulf of Aden over the last few months, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, an NGO.

This follows a significant decline that resulted from a concerted naval presence off Somalia and precautionary measures taken by crews on vessels in risk areas. Piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden declined to a point where non were reported for a lengthy period.

Things are changing, and for the worse.

Research from Oceans Beyond Piracy suggests an upward trend in the number of attacks in 2016 and early 2017, the result of a decline in vigilance within the shipping community, and an increase in the funding pirate gangs have obtained through illicit activities.

In its latest publication on maritime piracy, the NGO group reports that there were 94 seafarers taken hostage in 2016 in west Africa, and 1,921 seafarers subjected to attacks compared with 44 and 1,225 in 2015, respectively.

In east Africa, eight seafarers are still being detained by Somali pirates after 2 years as of May 2017. Although no hijackings were reported in 2016, the unstable socio-political environment remains unchanged and lends itself towards further pirate-related activities.

According to Peter Chalk, Adjunct Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. one of the key problems is that mitigation measures off the Horn of Africa have focused on addressing piracy at its end point, the sea, rather than at its root, on land.  He explained to fathom-news that there has been no appetite to engage in wholesale nation-building or to increase the capacities of Puntland and Somalialand, areas that have proven effective in fighting piracy.

Waters off Asia still remain the largest affected but a downward trend is emerging. While the number of seafarers affected by piracy and armed robbery is greater than Africa with 2,283 reported incidents, this is at last a drop in the 3,674 reported the year before. Chalk believes that pirate related incidents have dropped there due to bilateral and multilateral cooperation to fight piracy and armed maritime crime, sanctioning limited rights of hot pursuit and sharing of intelligence.

There are also a number of institutional arrangements in place that have helped to ameliorate part of the problem such as ReCAAP and the Information Fusion Center.

Piracy also brings extreme economic impact in terms of the cost of protection measures, ransoms, and insurance. Despite falling from US $7bn in 2010 to $1.3bn in 2015, the latest estimates by the NGO for 2016 of $1.7bn indicates the economic impact of piracy is gaining height.

Earlier this week the Danish Government announced that a challenger airplane would be sent to the Indian Ocean to support maritime security at the Horn of Africa.



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