UKMTO Report 8th-14th March

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This week’s UKMTO report is out, with a handful of incidents to report.

UKMTO notes that “suspicious activity remains prevalent” and predicts that this will continue as the weather conditions favour small boat operations. They further warn, rather like NATO Shipping Centre, that pirates may be hiding amongst legitimate groups of skiffs in order to assess the security arrangements present on merchant ships.

Local fishing activity and trade between Gulf of Aden countries is often mistaken by Masters and PMSCs as potential pirate activity. The announcement this week by Puntland’s Fisheries Ministry that all licences for foreign fishing vessels have been revoked could quite easily see incidents between the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) and fishing vessels. Again, it’s entirely possible that MVs may not recognise PMPF skiffs operating in the GoA, which could lead to potentially serious misunderstandings of intent.

Here are incidents logged by UKMTO:

8 Mar – 14 00N 49 17E. At 0415 UTCa vsl reported 6 white skiffs approaching on their port side with 4 POB. The skiffs closed to 200m wherupon the embarked AST fired warning shots. The skiffs moved away and the crew and vessel are safe.

9 Mar – 11 08N 75 10E. At 0400 UTC a vessel reported a Skiff, with 2 out-board motors and 5 POB drifting. The skiff then sped up and approached the vessel to within 350m. The vessel reported seeing ropes and grab hooks but no weapons. The emabarked AST showed their weapons and fired a flare. The skiff diverted course and moved away. Vessel and crew are safe.

9 Mar – 20 48N 59 20E. At 0715 UTC a vessel reported a white skiff with 2 POB drifting at 8nm. The vessel altered course to increase CPA and the skiff sped up to approximately 24 knots and steered to close in. The vessel activated fire hoses and foam and the embarked AST displayed weapons. When the skiff closed to 1100m from MV it reduced speed and started drifting again. Vessel and crew are safe.

While the incident on March 8th featuring six skiffs certainly seems worthy of further investigation (although a PAG of this size would be unusual, given recent patterns), the March 9th incident, where a skiff with two outboards, 5 POB and ropes with hooks were seen seems to be a far more plausible sighting, although the proximity to the Indian coast suggests they may well have been locals looking for likely targets to board and rob, rather than pirates per se.

The location of the sighting just off the Omani coast close to the Gulf of Oman is of concern, given the number of merchant ships transiting this area. There have been several possible pirate sightings in this area in the past few weeks and it may well be that pirates are hoping to catch ships off guard as they leave or approach ports in the region.

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