A couple of days ago, I posted a piece on the latest piracy and maritime crime statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). I pointed out that their figures don’t necessarily present the entire picture and expressed concern at the way the media treated them as absolute.
Today, my concerns were realised quite perfectly when I received an email from a yachtsman.
He is a regular reader of another site I work on and had seen the media reports about the IMB’s figures. He wanted to know if it was safe for him to take his yacht from the Maldives to Eritrea because, as he said, “piracy is down to an 8-year low and after clearing the Volvo race to transit the risk should be acceptable. Or are we wrong?”
In reply, I sent him NATO Shipping Centre’s standard advice for yachts thinking of transiting the Indian Ocean HRA:
Sailing yachts should avoid transiting the HRA. Past activity has shown that pirates will attack both large and small yachts passing their way. Despite the fact that attacks on merchant vessels appear to have decreased, the possibility of attacks and the successful pirating of sailing vessels remains likely due to their vulnerability and the reduction of revenue sources from pirated merchant vessels.
I also highlighted a list of possible suspect approaches in the last week and referred him back to incidents noted in December where skiffs containing weapons and ladders were sighed by merchant ships in the HRA. I didn’t mention that the Volvo race had been pushed further East in order to keep it well away from possible threats, or the current monsoon in the region which is driving small boat traffic into the Gulf of Aden, BAM and Southern Red Sea, leading to regular reports of suspected piracy which are more often simply cases of mistaken identity by jittery Masters and PMSCs. But in short, my advice was: no – don’t try it.
Has the risk of piracy diminished in the region? Absolutely. But why? Better naval patrols and faster interdiction have surely played a part but equally the use of armed guards by merchant ships has played a massive role in deterring pirates by changing the risk/reward ratio dramatically. But the threat of piracy remains in the region and it would be dangerous to pretend otherwise, particularly when lives are potentially at stake.
The media approach piracy as a novel subject for an article, and they use the IMB report as the benchmark for their piracy articles. For the maritime world, it’s an ongoing problem with associated cost implications, both human and financial. For a yacht making an average 8 knots, it’s a risk that just isn’t worth taking. Just ask the crew of Le Ponant or Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, whose yachts were hijacked by Somali pirates. Of course, if you think I’m being overly cautious, feel free to try the route yourselves in a yacht. Just try not to break down in the IRTC.