Decline in attacks prompts optimism

IHS Safety at Sea December 2016

The chief operating officer of maritime operations firm Dryad Maritime has said there are grounds for some cautious optimism as the company released its crime figures for the first nine months of the year.

Speaking exclusively to IHS SAS, Ian Millen said that overall, the level of maritime attacks had continued to fall. However, he cautioned against complacency as maritime companies and crews must ensure they are aware of threat levels and take the necessary precautions to stay safe.

According to Dryad, in the first nine months of the year 81 seafarers were kidnapped, of which 51 are still being held. The maritime operations firm has a high level intelligence capability and its figures have been collected from publicly available information as well as their own intelligence.

The Gulf of Guinea remains a crime hotspot, although the number of attacks aimed at kidnapping crew from commercial vessels in the Nigerian Economic Exclusion Zone fell sharply in the third quarter of 2016 in comparison with the first half of the year.

Millen attributed the decrease to the use of citadels and increased training of crews in the event that their vessel is boarded. "These criminal gangs look for the opportunities which have least risk and the potential for the highest reward and as such, the threat of kidnapping of crew remains real," he said.

In terms of southeast Asia, Millen said Dryad recorded 24 incidents of piracy or maritime crime across the region during the third quarter of 2016, taking the total for the first nine months of the year to 69. This is a reduction of 65% on the total amount of reported crime for the first nine months of 2015.

The most significant incidents during the third quarter of this year have been the kidnappings in the Sulu Sea off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia. Four incidents have accounted for the kidnapping of 11 personnel. No vessels were hijacked, but armed pirates boarded a tanker and a bulk carrier and assaulted the crew and stole cash, personal belongings, and equipment. Petty theft of ships' stores from vessels at anchor or alongside account for 72% of incidents during the third quarter.

Millen said the issues with the Abu Sayyaf group or gangs associated with them had this year resulted in the kidnapping of 40 crew members from vessels. At present, 11 seafarers are being held hostage in the Philippines and, despite attempts by security personnel to find them, their location remains a mystery. A Norwegian hostage, Kjartan Sekkingstad, was released in September after a year in captivity. Abu Sayyaf executed two Canadians taken hostage at the same time.

"The authorities have been making efforts to track these hostages but at present are having little success and the death of two hostages highlights the danger that those still held face," he said.

With the exception of the Sulu Sea,t maritime crime levels across southeast Asia are at their lowest since 2009. Dryad attributes this decline to arrests made in the final months of 2015 of criminal gangs responsible for boarding and robbery incidents in the Singapore Strait, as well as those responsible for cargo theft from hijacked small local tankers in the region in 2014andearly2015.

Millen said, "There is cause for some optimism but there remain areas of the world that are dangers for vessels and their crews. We need to ensure we do not overcook the threat levels but vessels need to be aware of the potential threats in the areas in which they are operating and ensure they take the necessary precautions."

He added that apart from the threat of crime and piracy, the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean was a concern. "The maritime sector has done a tremendous job in rescuing many migrants who have run into serious problems as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean," he said.

"I think it is a cause for concern and in my view we will still be talking about this in five years' time. Governments have been working hard on tackling the symptoms that the crisis has caused but more needs to be done to tackle the cause if the issue is to be effectively managed."