PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur – The Police Regional Office (PRO-9) has activated “Task Force Pink Panther” to boost security in “risk areas” and address threat groups in the region. Brig. Gen. Jesus Cambay Jr., PRO-9 director, who led the activation of the task force Monday, said the unit will consist of five task groups to secure the region’s coastlines.
In an interview Tuesday, Cambay said the task force will consist of policemen, soldiers, and personnel from other line agencies, especially those engaged in law enforcement, like the coast guard, and maritime police.
PNG media reports that on Friday 31st July, three suspected ‘pirates’ were arrested after a failed attempt to rob a vessel in Milne Bay.
Following a tip off to police that a ship approacking the Kanakope Passage was to be boarded by robbers, a number of officers were deployed. When they reached the scene, the suspects were already onboard, attempting to rob the ship’s crew.
Late at night in the Singapore Strait, the five men quietly pulled their small speedboat alongside the bulk cargo vessel Vega Aquarius and climbed aboard the much larger ship. The men, armed with knives, were noticed by an on-duty crewman while they were on the stern of the deck.
The men rushed the crewman, who managed to escape after his cell phone was seized. Alarms were raised throughout the ship, deck lights came on and the ship’s full crew was mustered. A ship-wide search failed to find the thieves but revealed that two sets of breathing apparatus were stolen. The attacked seaman sustained minor head injuries.
In early April, eight armed raiders boarded the container ship Fouma as it entered the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador. They fired warning shots toward the ship’s bridge, boarded the ship and opened several shipping containers, removing unknown items before escaping in two speedboats. Nobody was harmed.
Ecuador isn’t exactly a hot spot of global piracy, but armed robbers regularly attack ships in and around the port of Guayaquil. It’s the seventh-busiest port in Latin America, handling most of Ecuador’s agricultural and industrial imports and exports. Ships moored along the port’s quays or, like the Fouma, transiting its narrow river passages are easy prey for local criminal gangs.
Only a few short years ago the international community was celebrating the end of maritime piracy. Worldwide in 2019, there were fewer attacks and attempted attacks on ships than there had been in 25 years.
Modern sea piracy often involves pirates in small fast boats approaching and boarding larger, slower-moving ships to rob them of cargo – such as car parts, oil, crew valuables, communication equipment – or to seize the ship and crew for ransom.
Beginning in 2008, the greater Gulf of Aden area off the coast of East Africa became the most dangerous waters in the world for pirate attacks. Somali pirates like those portrayed in the 2013 Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips” spent five years regularly hijacking large commercial vessels.
As a result of these efforts, the global number of attacks and attempted attacks dropped significantly over the past decade, from a high of nearly 450 incidents in 2010 to fewer than 165 incidents in 2019 – the lowest number of actual and attempted pirate attacks since 1994. Ship hijackings, the most severe and visible manifestation of sea piracy, also have declined since 2010.
A return of pirates?
However, the Fouma attack is a troubling sign. The sea robbers seem to have had detailed advance knowledge of the ship’s cargo, as well as its course and the personnel on board. Those are clues that the pirates planned the attack, likely with help from the crew or others with specific information about the ship.
The medical and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic seems likely to pose severe challenges for countries with few resources and weak governments. West African and South American countries already struggle to police their territorial waters. Those regions have not yet been severely affected by the coronavirus, though infections are growing on both continents.
As hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, the regions’ governments will almost certainly shift their public safety efforts away from sea piracy and toward more immediate concerns on land. That will create opportunities for pirates.
The disease may make it harder for crews to protect ships as well. Most merchant vessel crews are already stretched thin. If crew members get sick, restrictions on international travel prevent their replacements from meeting the ship in whatever port it’s in.
Slowing consumer spending around the globe means less trade, which brings less revenue for shipping companies to spend on armed guards or other methods of protecting ships against pirates. As a result, ships will likely become easier targets for pirates.
Even with the early numbers suggesting an increase for 2020, global piracy still isn’t as high as it was during the Somali peak from 2009 to 2012. But if economic conditions worsen around the globe and ships look like easy targets, more desperate people may turn to piracy, or ramp up their existing efforts in an attempt to survive.
Seafarers face continuing threats from pirates and armed robbers on the world’s seas, says the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB), reporting 46 attacks in the first three months of 2020, up from 38 in the same period last year. Pirates boarded 37 ships in the first quarter of 2020.
The Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot. Seventeen crew were kidnapped in three incidents in these waters, at distances of between 45 and 75 nautical miles from the coast.
IMB’s latest global piracy report shows zero hijackings in the last two quarters, and no incidents around Somalia. But with no sign of a reduction in attacks worldwide, IMB encourages shipowners to stay vigilant, calling for continued international cooperation.
“Navy patrols, onboard security measures, cooperation and transparent information exchange between authorities, are all factors which help address the crimes of piracy and armed robbery,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett.
“The threat to crew is, however still real – whether from violent gangs, or opportunistic armed thieves inadvertently coming face-to-face with the crew. Ships’ masters must continue to follow industry best practice diligently and maintain watches. Early detection of an approaching pirate skiff is often key to avoiding an attack,” he added.
Gulf of Guinea kidnappings persist
IMB’s 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 21 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter of 2020. Of these, 12 were on vessels underway at an average of 70 nautical miles off the coast. All vessel types are at risk. The perpetrators are usually armed. They approach in speedboats, boarding ships in order to steal stores or cargo and abduct crewmembers to demand a ransom.
While 10 vessels were fired upon worldwide for the whole of 2019, four already reported being fired at within Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first quarter of 2020. This includes a container ship underway around 130 nm southwest of Brass. In another incident around 102 nm northwest of Sao Tome Island, another container ship was boarded by pirates. The crew retreated into the citadel and raised the alarm. On receiving the alert, the IMB PRC liaised with Regional Authorities and the vessel operator until the vessel was safe and the crew had emerged from the citadel.
“The IMB PRC commends Regional coastal state response agencies and international navies in the Gulf of Guinea region for actively responding to reported incidents,” said Mr Howlett.
With many more attacks going unreported, IMB advises seafarers in the region to follow the recently published Best Management Practices West Africa – BMP WA.
Indonesia: dialogue pays dividends
Strategic deployment of Marine Police patrol vessels has resulted in a continued decline in attacks on ships in most Indonesian anchorages and waterways – thanks to positive cooperation between the IMB PRC and the Indonesian Marine Police (IMP). In the first quarter of 2020, just five anchored vessels were reported boarded. These are often low-level armed robbery attacks. The IMB PRC is monitoring the situation and continues to liaise with the IMP as well as other local and regional authorities.
Five ships were boarded while underway in the Singapore Straits – where no attacks were reported in the first quarter of 2019. These low-level armed robbery attacks are a distraction to crews navigating in congested waters. In one incident the crew managed to lock their assailants in the storeroom, which enabled their later arrest.
Other violence against seafarers includes the kidnapping of five crew for ransom in an attack on a fishing vessel off Sabah, Malaysia in January 2020. In March, at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, a watchman was confronted while on duty and held temporarily by a group of robbers. Meanwhile, in the anchorage of Callao, Peru, three crew were apprehended by nine robbers who boarded their vessel to steal ship’s stores. Two crew were injured during the incident. Callao recorded five incidents in the last quarter of 2019 and three this quarter.
IMB Piracy Reporting Centre
Founded in 1991, IMB’s 24-hour manned Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) remains a single point of contact to report the crimes of piracy and armed robbery. The Centre has not only assisted ships in a timely manner, it also provides the maritime industry, response agencies and governments with transparent data – received directly from the Master of the vessel under attack – or its owners.
The IMB PRC’s prompt forwarding of reports and liaison with response agencies, its broadcasts to shipping via GMDSS Safety Net Services and email alerts to ships’ Company Security Officers (CSOs), all provided free of charge, has helped the response against piracy and armed robbery and the security of seafarers, globally.
The Papua New Guinea Courier reported on Jan. 23rd that a boat captain was missing at sea after pirates attacked his boat in the early hours of Monday morning, near Alotau in Milne Bay province.
According to the media outlet, reports remain sketchy and very little information has emerged from official channels regarding the incident. Family members, posting on social media platform, suggested the boat, the MC Curringa, was attacked as it transited through Milne Bay at around 3am on Monday 20th.
They report that pirates attacked the boat and Captain, James Yakawa, who is now believed to be missing. The boat has returned to Sanderson Bay Wharf.
While pirates are becoming rarer off the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, since warships patrolled the area, the number of acts of piracy and robbery is steadily increasing, with a sharp upsurge in Caribbean. For example, 28 events were recorded in 2019 off the island of Grenada, compared to only 3 the previous year. In the West Indies, it is mainly pleasure boats that are targeted.
Boaters and merchant ships
Pirates no longer hesitate to board large vessels, such as merchant vessels, even though the palm goes back to the Gulf of Guinea, where almost a third of the attacks took place there according to the report of the MICA Center, the center of expertise French Maritime Safety, which has just published its annual report. In 2019, for example, the organization recorded 360 events related to piracy and robbery. This figure has been stable for four years but less than it was 10 years ago.
ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre Conducts Anti-Piracy Capacity Building Programme for Senior Officers of Maritime Authorities and Law Enforcement Agencies in Cooperation with Vietnam Coast Guard ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) in cooperation with ReCAAP Vietnam Focal Point (Vietnam Coast Guard) today convened the Capacity Building Senior Officer’s Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The three-day programme will gather senior officers from 16 ReCAAP Member Countries as well as Malaysia and Indonesia to review the situation of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia including the incidents of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas, share specific case studies, and discuss ways to improve the maritime safety situation in Asia.
Complementing the programme is a lecture on international maritime laws and their applications, as well as a scenario-based exercise facilitated by Professor Max Mejia of the World Maritime University.
Participants of the programme will also have an opportunity to have a dialogue with the shipping industry based in Vietnam to better understand their concerns.
“The ReCAAP model is unique because it gives emphasis on information sharing among a network of 20 ReCAAP Focal Points across Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States as an approach to fighting maritime crimes,” said Mr. Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC. “Thanks to the regional and international cooperation, incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia are decreasing. We will continue to strengthen the capability and cooperation of ReCAAP Focal Points and regional authorities to keep Asian waters—one of the most economically vital in the world—safe for seafarers, ships and cargoes.”
The ReCAAP Member Countries represented at the Capacity Building Senior Officers’ Meeting 2019 in Hanoi are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.