Resurgence of Somali pirates creates another ‘danger zone’ for shipping

By Charlotte Goldstone 11/04/2024

The distressing ‘new normal’ of geopolitical tension has created danger zones for international shipping, with seafarers forced onto the front line.  

The ICC’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) yesterday released its Q1 report on maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, showing 33 recorded incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships. 

This represents an 18.2% increase from the 27 incidents across the first three months of 2023. 

“Of the 33 incidents that had been reported, 24 vessels were boarded, six had attempted attacks, two were hijacked and one was fired upon,” says the report.  

Across these attacks, 35 crew members had been taken hostage, nine kidnapped and one threatened. 

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) secretary general John Denton said: “The resurgence of Somali pirate activity is worrying, and now more than ever it is crucial to protect trade, safeguard routes and the safety of seafarers who keep commerce moving. 

“All measures to ensure the uninterrupted free flow of goods throughout international supply chains must be taken.” 

The Indian navy and Seychelles coastguard have been making efforts to intercept hijacked vessels and safeguard crews in the region of Somalia, and vessels have been asked to cooperate by maintaining strict anti-piracy and robbery watches and reporting attacks and suspicious sightings to local authorities.  

Many carriers are also opting to re-route their vessels to avoid danger zones or take wide berths around affected coastlines.  

“The IMB PRC cautions vessel owners and masters against complacency. Recent incidents demonstrate the continued capability and capacity of the Somali pirates to target vessels over 1,852 km from the Somali coast,” the report warns. 

Meanwhile, Haiti – a country that has been descending into anarchy since the 2021 assassination of democratically elected president Jovenel Moïse – recently saw the hijacking of a general cargo ship travelling from Varreux to Cap-Haitien.  

Radio Télé Métronome reported that on 4 April, gang members kidnapped everyone onboard the ship and stole some 10,000 of the 60,000 sacks of rice it was carrying. The ship was recovered on Monday by Haiti’s national police agency after a five-hour gun battle.

The IMB report also notes an increase in reported low-level opportunistic crimes in Bangladeshi waters, with seven reported incidents in Q1 alone, compared with one report for the whole of 2023.  

The report also notes reports of five incidents against four large bulk carriers and a general cargo vessel in the Singapore Straits. While the threat to cargo is considered low-level in this area, the threat to ships’ crews remains high, with five seafarers taken hostage in three separate incidents in January.