The Indian Ocean, and Gulfs of Aden and Oman have long been an ample hunting ground for the pirates who wish to ply their illegitimate trade against innocent mariners.
And that scourge has not gone away. Although in the last month we have only seen 1 pirate attack and 4 disruptions the international diplomatic, military and shipping communities remain focused on the issue, and for good reason. Piracy remains a persistent and credible threat.
Piracy is not a victimless crime. The excellent news about the release of 21 Filipino hostages from the MV Free Goddess can be countered by the more recent statement that the MV Orna has reportedly been freed after being held captive for nearly two years, sadly without six of its crew members who are still incarcerated by the pirates ashore. These events should serve to remind us about the plight of those that are affected by piracy, who might be from large or small vessels.
Around two hundred crew members from six merchant vessels and seven fishing vessels* are currently still held hostage. Only in May of this year was the MV SMYRNI seized; she and her crew still remain under pirate control.
Piracy remains a flexible threat, and pirates adapt their methods according to the circumstances and environment. For example, they often use small vessels which are difficult to detect, hidden amongst the thousands of fishermen innocently earning a living in the region, turning the fishermen into both a shield and a target.
Organisations like Combined Maritime Forces use a variety of intelligence feeds from many sources to place our ships and aircraft in areas which are deemed to be a high risk to mariners. That said, even the combined navies of the international community cannot be everywhere at all times. It is for this reason that we call upon the merchant shipping community to keep up its guard, keep implementing Best Management Practice, keep training its crews and finally keep a good look out at all times. Experience has shown that adopting these measures goes a significant way to reducing the success of piracy.
The situation ashore in Somalia is slowly improving, of course. In time, it is hoped that those who set off from its shores intending to conduct acts of piracy will realise that their chances of success are slim, that the hazardous task could well result in death, and that there are alternative – legitimate – livelihoods.
But for now, although the trend is down, and the number of hostages and ships being held is decreasing, this issue has not gone away. Therefore Combined Maritime Forces yet again urges the ship owning and operating community to continue maintaining heightened vigilance and defensive measures.