News / Africa

Pirate Attacks Expected to Pick Up in Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean

Piracy is a booming and increasingly lucrative business, with ransoms of millions of dollars being paid.  Private yachts are using the latest technologies to protect themselves from the threat. 

As the monsoon season ends in Asia, the Indian Ocean calms and incidences of piracy usually surge. Navy ships are preparing for that increase.

Karen Jacques is commercial director at Dryad Maritime Intelligence. "At the moment, all the patterns seem to be suggesting that it's going to end about mid-September, at that point, the seas lower, the rains go away and the pirates come out to play," she said.

Ben Young knows what happens when they do. He was piloting a private yacht through the Gulf of Aden when pirates attacked. "One evening a small vessel crossed across our bow to try and slow us down and at that point another two vessels came from behind to try and board," said Young.

Targets

These privately owned, luxury vessels, called super yachts, are worth millions of dollars and are attractive targets. Young says in his case, the crew was lucky. "In the instance of this piracy attack, we simply fired warning shots above the pirates' heads and they turned round and retreated," he said.

Private vessels increasingly are resorting to equipment once reserved for the military - infrared cameras, high-end motion sensors and sonic lasers to detect and deter pirates.

Bruce MacPhearson of Automatic Sea Vision, which makes surveillance gear, says the threat has escalated. "The intensity has increased not only in the number of attacks occurring, but in the willingness of the pirates to use lethal force," said MacPhearson.

Hot spots

The Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have been hot spots for pirates mainly operating out of Somalia. But as the pirates capture larger ships they can venture further afield says Jacques.

"Their reach now actually extends right the way across the Indian Ocean as far as India and we've seen them active around the Seychelles, so with the larger vessels their reach is much more extended," said the commercial director at Dryad Maritime Intelligence.

Captains of smaller yachts that can not afford expensive technology are particularly wary of pirates. Alexander Whicher is in charge of a 67-foot sailboat. "Everybody knows you don't go near Somalia and a lot of cruising boats now have a tendency to drop out of the Indian Ocean and head to South Africa and either go across to Brazil and then on up to the Caribbean. They tend not to go up through the Suez Canal," he said.

An international Naval task force has cut down on the number of pirate attacks. But Horn of Africa Analyst Roger Middleton,  with the London-based think tank Chatham House, says the pirates have an advantage.

"We're looking at an area of one and a half million square miles of ocean. This is a massive area and even on the best days there's only about 35 maybe 40 naval ships patrolling that area," he said.

Middleton says piracy is a growing business. This year the average ransom is expected to be more than $1 million.

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