- Editorial Staff
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP ISC) is a regional agreement between twenty countries, mainly Asian but including four European nations with large commercial fleets; Australia and the United States are also members. Last year (2018) ReCAAP ISC recorded a total of 76 incidents. The information sharing centre, headquartered in Singapore, said that of the total, 62 were actual incidents and 14 were attempted incidents. Four were acts of piracy and 72 were armed robberies against ships. There was a 25% drop in the number of incidents and a 31% fall in actual incidents compared with 2017. Last year saw the lowest number of incidents since ReCAAP began keeping records in 2007.
Its executive director Masafumi Kuroki said: ‘While ReCAAP welcomes the recent downward trend in the number of incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia, we urge the law enforcement and regulatory authorities and the shipping industry to continue the vigilance and co-operation that has led to the decrease. In Asia, more than 90 per cent of the incidents are armed robbery in territorial waters of the coastal states. The ownership and efforts of the coastal states in deterring, detecting and apprehending perpetrators is vital in reducing the number of incidents’.
While this political watchdog overview is helpful, in general terms piracy in the Asian region is declining given the presence of significant military forces. Easier pickings are to be found elsewhere, especially on the east coast of Africa. The last significant attack in this region on a large merchant ship occurred in February 2018 when the 50,000 tonne Singaporean tanker Leopard Sun was fired upon by two skiffs 160 nm (300 km) off the coast of Somalia. The ship’s security team returned fire and the attackers withdrew. On 21 April 2019 two fishing vessels, the Korean Adria and the Spanish Txori Argi, were attacked by pirates 280 nm (520 km) off the coast of Somalia; again, these attacks were thwarted by private security teams embarked on both vessels. It was reported that these latter attacks most likely emanated from a mothership which had been seized earlier in the month.
Transit by High Value Target Passenger Ship
Passenger ships on around the world cruises are full of relatively wealthy mature-aged couples, many of whom are serial cruisers, hibernating from the chills of European winters. When passing through regions of terrorist threat, these high value target ships conduct anti-piracy drills. The following report from a passenger on a recent cruise in a British flagged vessel is illuminating.
On leaving Colombo two new passengers arrived, a Lieutenant Commander from the Royal Navy, of considerable seniority, and his wife. This was our Royal Naval Liaison Officer (RNLO) who would be with us while on passage through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, departing when we were safely in the Mediterranean.
The RNLO briefed the Captain and his management team and established a rapport with the ship’s security team. The ship’s security officer, also a retired LCDR, was assisted by a number of male and female security staff, two of whom were ex-Gurkhas. After leaving Mumbai making for Dubai, in concert with a monthly lifeboat drill we had our first anti-piracy drill. All passengers were briefed over the ship’s broadcast system on procedures to be taken which, after the sounding of an alarm, were then exercised. Passengers had to go to their cabins and lock outside balcony doors, close curtains and switch off lights, then proceed to the interior passageway outside their cabin and sit on the floor with their backs against the bulkhead, in case of stray missiles, away from the door. Cabin stewards then mustered all those in their respective areas and reported when these were accounted for. With another run-down of procedures over the broadcast we were free to return to the pleasures of normal seaboard routines.
When the ship reached Muscat things ratcheted up a notch as an armed party of four ex-Royal Marines (now working for a privately contracted marine security services agency) joined the ship. They were stationed either side of the bridge and were in radio contact with the command team and ship security staff who were mostly stationed around the promenade deck, this being the most likely point of access by unwanted intruders. When steaming in the High Risk Area, the waters from Muscat around the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea, security was in constant evidence. The ship maintaining high speed, with high pressure hoses rigged, together with noise making machines, and the old time favourites of crow-bars and bolt-cutters to counter grappling irons. At night, in addition to patrols, the outside decks were blacked-out and passengers were not permitted outside.
These procedures continued from Muscat around the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea. The strategic strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa, known as ‘Bab el Mandeb’ or the ‘Gate of Tears’, is less than 12 nm (19 km) wide. Demonstrating the ease of this crossing, with our ship following a designated track, three small speed boats each with about six persons onboard shot across our bow and then slowed to provide an escort off the starboard bow, smiling and waving at the passengers. While this excitement delighted the passengers who at first thought the pirates are coming, these were friendly sightseers, but on another day!
When clear of the strait the Red Sea beckons and the expanse of waters is much wider. At about this stage our RNLO gave an informative presentation in the ship’s theatre to as many passengers who wished to attend on his recent experiences in this anti-piracy role.
Australian involvement in Middle East Region Combined Task Force
Bahrain provides home port facilities to the United States 5th Fleet and the United States Naval Forces Central Command which oversees naval task forces monitoring activity in this region through a number of Combined Task Forces (CTF). The CTFs comprise a thirty-two nation partnership, which includes an Australian Government contribution, deployed throughout the Middle East Region. Since 1990 the RAN has conducted 67 ship deployments to the Middle East in support of security in this region.
Piracy organization and business model
As the response to piracy becomes more sophisticated the piracy organization has learned to adopt new business models. They now have recourse to international lawyers, insurance and ship-brokers, and mediation experts. Their aim is to apprehend and detain merchant ships and then maximize monetary returns through the safe return of ships, their crews, passengers and cargoes.
The pirates themselves are no longer an unruly bunch of fishermen seeking easy pickings. They are now well trained and have learned to intercept radio messages providing information of potential targets, they are also adroit at direction finding and have long-range radar. The pirates operate to a Code of Conduct which encourages them not to unduly molest crews and passengers and respect ships and cargoes as this increases the likelihood of improved returns. There are financial penalties for violation of this Code.
Later this evening under cover of darkness our ship slowed and was met by a launch which took off our armed party. We then proceeded to Port Suez at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal and at night anchored. Early the following morning we took our place at the head of a convoy guided by an Egyptian naval patrol craft and proceeded to the canal at a speed of about 8.3 knots making for the Bitter Lakes. The canal is 120 miles (193 km) in length, but with improvements which opened in August 2015, of a parallel canal providing a two-way traffic system over 22 miles (35 km), traffic flows have improved. With average speeds of about 8 knots transit times to Port Said are between 12 and 15 hours. Possibly as a leftover from past conflicts there are numerous military installations along the canal which include armed guards stationed at regular intervals along the canal banks.
We eventually made the Israeli port and major naval base of Haifa with less evident security, and here said farewell to our Royal Navy Liaison Officer. While we did not observe any overt evidence of ships or aircraft from the Combined Task Force their presence in this still volatile region remains a welcome insurance to all travellers on the high seas.
In summary, the response to piracy in Asian region has ramped up to include: a civilian monitoring organization in Singapore, the involvement of the United States 5th Fleet and elements of an associated Combined Task Force based on Bahrain, and privately operated maritime security services based throughout the region. It is assumed this model could be replicated elsewhere to counter similar problems.
West Africa the New Piracy Hot Spot
The seas around West Africa are currently the world’s most dangerous for piracy. A recent report issued by the International Maritime Bureau says 75 seafarers were taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year (2019). Of these 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameron. Pirates killed one person, took 38 hostage and kidnapped a further 37 for ransom.