Shipowners call for ‘freedom of navigation’

By Jim Wilson

Three major international ocean shipping representative bodies — the International Chamber of Shipping, the Asian Shipowners’ Association and the European Community Shipowners’ Association — have called for the international community to stop the escalation of tensions in the Strait of Hormuz.
    They also have called for the international community to fully respect international law.
    “All countries should ensure the safe passage of merchant vessels by respecting the freedom of navigation enshrined in Article 87(1)a and the right of innocent passage defined in Article 19 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS],” the joint statement reads.

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UK to join US-led taskforce in Gulf to protect merchant ships

Persian Gulf/SoH

The Royal Navy will join a US-led taskforce to protect merchant ships travelling in the Gulf.

The move comes amid growing tensions between the two western powers and Iran over the shipping route in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian forces seized British-flagged vessel Stena Impero last month, while the US has tightened sanctions on Iran.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the new maritime taskforce would give “reassurance for shipping”.

But it goes against plans laid out by his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, for a European-led mission in the area.

The UK government confirmed last month that it would provide a Royal Navy escort, from warships HMS Duncan and HMS Montrose, for British-flagged ships passing through the strait.

The Ministry of Defence said the new mission would involve the same warships.

The US has also committed two warships to the mission, as well as aerial surveillance.

Washington has re-imposed – and latterly tightened – its own sanctions on Iran, after withdrawing from a 2015 deal to limit the country’s nuclear activities.

The UK and other European countries remain committed to the plan, but diplomatic tensions have been strained in recent months – increasing after the seizure of the Stena Impero.

Mr Raab said the UK’s decision to join the US-led mission did not change its commitment to the nuclear deal and that the government was working to “de-escalate the situation” in the Gulf.

Announcing the new mission, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK was “determined to ensure shipping is protected from unlawful threats”.

He added: “Upholding international maritime law and freedom of passage is in all our interests.

“We are seeing, across our seas and oceans, too many incidents that seek to challenge such freedoms.”


What’s the cost of piracy in West African waters?

The Gulf of Guinea has turned into one of the world’s most notorious piracy hotspots. Plus, why’s the gold price rising?

A decade ago, no ship was safe off the coast of Somalia; men armed with machine guns in small boats would target vessels, including aid ships from the World Food Programme.

The menace of piracy continues to plague the region, impeding its security and economic development. It is also increasing in the Gulf of Guinea, an area that covers 11,000 kilometres of coastline from Angola to Senegal.

Fishing boats are sometimes targeted but most attacks are carried out on oil and gas tankers.

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Gulf of Guinea must look east to solve its pirate problem

Why has piracy off Somalia’s coast plummeted while in West Africa pirates remain undefeated?


A few years ago piracy off the east coast of Africa, focusing on Somalia, was a major crisis, attracting extensive international attention. Now it has plummeted. Meanwhile across the continent in the Gulf of Guinea, the piracy problem, which never attracted quite the same attention, has persisted at much the same high levels.

The reasons are numerous, though the greater prioritisation of Western Indian Ocean sea routes to the international community is probably near the heart of it. Another reason seems to be the relatively greater capacity of individual West African states to fight piracy.

Pirate attacks off Somalia’s coast have dropped dramatically over the past eight years – from 237 incidents in 2011 to nine in 2017 and just three attempted attacks in 2018, Denys Reva reported in a June ISS Today article.

So much so that the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia has started discussing broadening the group’s mandate to include combating other maritime security problems like trafficking. This complements similar changes occurring in other prominent maritime security initiatives such as the Djibouti Code of Conduct.

By contrast, on 8 July this year the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB-PRC) said the seas around West Africa remained ‘the world’s most dangerous for piracy.’ Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage on board or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon. 

The bureau said 73% of all kidnappings at sea, and 92% of hostage takings, happened in the Gulf of Guinea. It nonetheless notes ‘a welcome and marked decrease’ in attacks in the gulf for the second quarter of 2019, commending the Nigerian navy in particular for actively responding to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats. While recognising that many attacks go unreported, the maritime bureau recorded 21 incidents around Nigeria so far in 2019, down from 31 in the same period of 2018.

Timothy Walker, Senior Researcher and specialist in maritime issues at the Institute for Security Studies, says however that despite the improvement recorded by the IMB-PRC, the general incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea seems to have remained fairly constant over the past decade.

He suggests this is because the high seas off Somalia generally carry shipping heading to and from the Suez Canal and linking the huge markets of Europe, India and East Asia. They are also of greater global interest as they carry ships of almost every flag state and generally of greater size.

While there is also a huge volume of international shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, most attacks are happening in territorial waters, against localised shipping to and from West Africa. Because of this geographic difference, a larger international operation was mobilised to counter Somali-based piracy, pulling in powerful navies from the United States, China, Russia, India and France, among others, and notably the European Union’s Operation Atalanta.

These nations have coordinated their efforts through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and the Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE) Conference. Their success seems to have been enhanced by natural competition among themselves for the greatest competence in combating piracy and projecting national maritime power. It was precisely the absence of a functioning national authority in relatively ungoverned Somalia that brought these international navies into the fight against piracy.

Walker notes that the many West African nations with shores on the Gulf of Guinea could better fight piracy through pooling their capacity and strengthening their law enforcement institutions. Such cooperation between and within the economic communities of West African States and Central African States is improving maritime security to a degree.

There is also an Interregional Coordination Centre in Yaoundé steering many of these efforts, complementing national and regional actions. But such efforts struggle with capacity shortages and the low political priority many governments still attach to maritime security.

One manifestation of the need for coordination is that while private security guards on ships have been an effective, albeit controversial, means to combat pirates off Somalia, this hasn’t worked in the Gulf of Guinea. Countries such as Nigeria insist on shipping companies manning their vessels with Nigerian naval teams in their national waters.

Another downside of the many different national jurisdictions fighting piracy in the west is that pirates can shift to different national maritime jurisdictions when one country steps up the pressure against them. This displacement of piracy could be a major factor in maintaining high overall piracy rates, Walker suggests.

He also notes that those fighting Somali piracy have been able to institutionalise their efforts more effectively than their Gulf of Guinea counterparts. However the institutions in the west are working as well as their member states empower them to, he says.

Reva notes that companies sailing off Somalia have together developed effective safety guidelines for ships travelling through a well-defined High Risk Area. For example, ships navigating through the region are urged to increase their speed and install protective systems on board. They are also asked to follow the protected Maritime Security Transit Corridor, making it harder for pirates to attack. These guidelines were key to bringing down piracy off Somalia’s coast, Reva said.

Another difference is the east’s legal approach. Walker says at the height of piracy in the Western Indian Ocean many were caught off Somalia and brought to court in countries such as Kenya and the Seychelles. They were then incarcerated in Somalia itself or its semi-autonomous Puntland region to be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. This has been a strong deterrent to piracy in the east.

By contrast there is little record of incarceration, prosecution or conviction of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, he says. Through this ‘lack of legal finish’, as Walker puts it, the west is missing an opportunity to visibly deter piracy.

Overall, the problem in the east has now become how to avoid complacency in the face of success. In the west, the problem remains the need to reduce the incidence of piracy. It would seem that greater regional coordination – if necessary with international assistance, including guidance from those who have succeeded on the other side of the continent – is called for.

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant


Drakensberg now on humanitarian duty in Mozambique

Mozambique Channel

SAS Drakensberg (A301) is steaming up the east coast of southern Africa loaded with a cargo of much-needed humanitarian aid following completion of an Operation Copper anti-piracy mission in the Mozambique Channel.

The humanitarian aid forms part of international support, including from South Africa, to assist in rebuilding cyclone damaged Mozambique. Estimates are Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, caused damage running into billions of dollars, destroying houses, farms, roads and other infrastructure in the process.

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Protecting the Strait of Hormuz essential

Persian Gulf/SoH

UAE wholly endorses international efforts to safeguard vital maritime passage

A significant proportion of the global economy depends on the free flow of maritime traffic. The ships that navigate the waters of Arabian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz carry one-third of the world’s petrochemical and energy needs — an essential artery that keeps oil pumping around the planet, powering industry, energy and global trade. The free movement of those ships is vital.

Simply put, the maritime trade in our regional waters cannot be interrupted. Those vessels are the lifeblood of commerce, trade and energy, and anyone who interferes in their safe passage or impedes their activities is a saboteur of the interests of all who depend on their cargoes. Yet sabotage and piracy now have reared their head, all thanks to the activities of the regime in Iran.

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Cluster Bomb Toting F-15Es Are Patrolling The Persian Gulf To Counter Small Boat Swarms

The weapons would be a useful tool for destroying Iran’s fast boat armada that it has used to seize and harass tankers.


U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles have been flying patrols over the Persian Gulf armed with cluster munitions, as well as a variety of other weapons. These weapons could be useful for beating back swarms of small boats, such as those belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC. The sorties come amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, as well as the IRGC’s harassment and seizure of a number of tankers in Strait of Hormuz in recent weeks.

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