Piracy: A changing landscape with new threats


Statistics show that piracy events affecting commercial shipping has been on a sharp decline since the Somali epidemic reached its peak in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. With increased security and better prepared ships, the attraction to hopeful Somalians is not what it once was.

Somali piracy over the last few years has been virtually non-existent, with just a handful of cases a year. However there has now been a locational shift with the Malay Archipelago, The Gulf of Guinea and now more recently, The Gulf of Aden. After three years of relative calm in the waters between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, a strait known as Bab el-Mandeb, at least seven piracy related incidents were reported in October 2016.

One might be led into thinking that the Somalians are casting their eyes out to the riches of the sea again, but considering at least four of the attacks were thought to be carried out by Yemeni militants, of which two were with land based anti-ship missiles, shipping companies who use the Bab el-Mandeb may understand the cause for concern. The fact that one of these attacks was carried out against the USS Mason, a U.S. Naval Destroyer shows that your average commercial shipping security measures aren’t going to strike any fear into these well-organised and well-armed political groups.

Regardless of motives, the fact that both Somali pirates and Yemeni militants appear to be active in the strait once again is disturbing news for commercial shipping companies. Overall, piracy has been declining worldwide, especially along strategic maritime routes. However, it has marginally increased in certain regional waterways. According to the IMB’s piracy reporting centre, there are now just a few attempts at piracy in the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Strait of Malacca each year — two areas of the most dangerous hotspots for piracy in the late 1990s and 2000s. Nonetheless, in addition to the resurgence of activity in the Bab el-Mandeb, piracy is becoming an increasing concern in the Gulf of Guinea and in the waters off Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia as well.

Although general piracy has declined around the Bab al-Mandeb strait, mainly due to an EU counter-piracy operation known as NAVFOR and the proliferation of armed guards, such measures have not eradicated pirate havens on land.