The monsoon continues to suppress small boat operations in the East African HRA, with just two reports from UKMTO for the period August 16th to 22nd. Meanwhile, the IMB has issued a report for an incident on August 25th which is potentially interesting.
While we have heard of incidents in West Africa, these remain unconfirmed at the time of writing.
UKMTO reports that on August 16th, a merchant vessel was approached by two skiffs at 0543 UTC in position 24:33N-057:58E, Gulf of Oman. The skiffs held 4 POB and 2 respectively. They closed on the MV at speed to within 8 cables. The MV reported sighting a ladder in one of the skiffs (although UKMTO use the word “alleged”, which is an interesting choice of word). Weapons were reported to have been fired from the skiffs in the direction of the MV. The MV’s armed security team responded by showing weapons and firing flares, and the skiffs backed away.
The incident is similar to one on August 12th in the same area, when an Indian-flagged tanker, the Bon Atlantico, reported being chased by three skiffs. However, very little has been made of this incident, while the one on the 12th was widely reported. It could well be that the skiffs were being operated by Omani fishermen and were part of the normal pattern of life in the region, but the fact that shots were reportedly fired on the MV is a definite cause for concern.
On August 18th, a MV reported sighing four skiffs which were believed to have been associated with a black Yemeni dhow at 1030 UTC in position 12:52.6N-043:14.2E. One skiff carried 5-6 POB and approached the MV to within 0.5nm. The MV’s armed security team claimed to have seen a ladder (again, the word “alleged” is used). They showed their weapons at which point the skiff aborted its approach.
As weather conditions improve in the next few weeks, we expect to see more reports from the region.
The use of the word “allegedly” in various UKMTO reports over recent weeks highlights the fact that reports of possible pirate activity from PMSCs are once again being treated with something of a weather eye by reporting agencies. Danish intelligence provider, Risk Intelligence, has commented on PMSCs ‘fear mongering’ via its Twitter account.
Are PMSCs “talking up” the risk of piracy in the region, or are they trying to ensure ship owners don’t lower their guard based on favourable media reports? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau reports that on August 25th, a bulk carrier was approached twice by skiffs with a white hull and blue stripes at 0900 LT, in position 08:21N-076:36E, around 22nm West of Kovalam, India.
On the first approach, a skiff with five armed POB approached and closed to within 100 metres of the ship. After four hours, the duty crew noticed another skiff with six armed POB approach and close to around 300-400 metres. On both occasions, the embarked armed security team displayed their weapons and the skiffs stopped their approach. IMB reports that both skiffs had speeds of 15-20 knots. The Indian Coast Guard was informed and we await their report.
The location of this report is interesting. Given the region is currently still experiencing the SW monsoon, it would be very unusual to see Somali pirates so far south in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, in spite of the ‘pirates’ coming quite close to the MV, there are no descriptions available.
We anticipate that this report will be leapt on by various elements in the security industry, while the Indian authorities will do their best to disprove it, as any sighting of pirates in their waters would adversely affect their attempts to shift the HRA boundaries.