Container Vessels and Tankers May Be Under Threat Again Off East African CoastlineJul 2nd 2020 · 2 min read
EAST AFRICA – This week saw the publication of an interesting report linking the current pandemic to the possibility of the return to high levels of piracy off the coasts of East Africa. The viral statistics and spread prevention techniques in each are compared with the growth or otherwise in pirate attacks on merchant and other shipping in countries including Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Yemen.
It is not so long since the Somali coastline and the Gulf of Aden were seeing regular seizure of ships and crews for robbery and ransom, in fact hardly a day passed at one point without a major headline emanating from the region. In 2011 we lamented how this situation had hardly improved in over three years but the introduction, and more importantly the adoption, of Best Practice protocols, the attention of the world’s navies, with such as the EU Navfor - Operation Atalanta policy, plus the sanctioning of armed guards aboard such as container vessels and tankers saw attacks dwindle.
The report is from ARX Mouldings, clearly a vested interest as the company produces a range of hardware designed to foil maritime attacks, but it does however make several interesting points. Despite all the rhetoric at the time attacks were increasing regarding the rise of such Islamic militarist groups as Al Shabaab, such outfits only truly prosper when they have a discontented or disenfranchised population to work with.
The demise of Somalia’s fishing fleet, small family run skiffs, due to outsiders from a variety of countries overfishing the region led inevitably to poverty, just as on the other side of the continent the rape and poisoning of much of the land in the Niger Delta led to the growth of such as MEND, whose guerrilla activities include raids on the vessels of the oil companies they blame for the environmental disaster, corruption and resulting poverty they have caused.
So what of Covid-19? How does a viral pandemic square up as a possible cause for a surge in piracy at sea? The answer of course is simple economics. We are just seeing the damage caused as a result of the virus and obviously, one tends to concentrate on the regions where each of us is affected most. For the majority in the West this means their own country, their trading neighbours and the major states such as America.
What the ARX report does is give a snapshot of the state of play and how each country in the East African region is reacting to the crisis, however it does not stop there. Additionally it takes a look at the mental health of the crews, stuck on vessels on voyages which must seem without end to the many affected, with a plea to operators to care for their staff both medically and financially.
Prior to the final conclusion, the report looks at the arms trade and violence, illustrating the potential for more recently produced and deadlier munitions than were hitherto generally available in the region due to continuing embargoes on sales of new weapons. The hardship brought on by the virus is likely to see arms traders seeking other markets, legally or otherwise, to supply those who may feel they are forced to turn to piracy, their own income streams having disappeared.