Despite an increase in international
naval patrols and heightened security on many ships, there's been an upsurge in
Somali pirate attacks and hijackings. Are security measures faulty or are
Wilson, Middle East correspondent for Fairplay International Shipping News, has
been following developments from his base in Dubai. He tells VOA that the ship hijacked Wednesday, a
US-flagged, Danish-owned container vessel, was beyond the reach of any patrol
vessels. The crew of the Maersk Alabama later retook the ship, according to US Defense Department officials.
Wilson says, "The
Indian Ocean is just truly a vast sea space. If you're 300 nautical miles away,
thenthere's not a lot of help from a warship. Not even an air asset, like a
helicopter, is [of] much value at that distance."
location of the hijacking is one of the reasons the pirates were successful.
the Gulf of Aden is where a lot of attacks have taken place. And that's the
distance between Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula. This attack was not there.
It's very significant," he says.
pirates are changing tactics in part because of the Monsoon season in India.
"What happens is basically the weather bounces off the Indian mountain ranges
and hits this part of the world. That causes the water to get very choppy, very
high swells, very windy and, especially in the Gulf of Aden, it makes it very
dangerous for the pirates to attack vessels. However, if you go off the East
African sea lanes…about 400 kilometers off the coast of Somalia, 250, 300, 400
nautical miles, the weather is a lot better. So, that's where this vessel was
attacked," he says.
better weather, the area offers pirates many rich targets. Wilson says, "The
East African sea lanes are very, very heavily traveled with traffic. It's
basically the route to go around Africa and also it's the route to go from the
Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan and India down to places like Mombasa in Kenya. So
the pirates are switching their attention from the Gulf of Aden to the wider Indian
more, the Gulf of Aden is now heavily patrolled by international naval vessels.
Wilson says that for pirates to be successful in the Gulf they must be able to
attack and board a vessel within 15 minutes. Otherwise, they risk an attack by
a coalition warship or helicopter.
Fairplay correspondent says it's also significant that a container ship was
hijacked. "Container ships are fast and they have a high freeboard. That means
they have a large height from the waterline to the deck. Now, the bigger the
freeboard, the more difficult it is for pirates to get on board. And when those
boats are moving and the vessels are bucking in the water, it's extremely
difficult to get on board. The fact that they can do this on containers ships,
which are fast, over 20 knots, and they have a high freeboard, indicates that
the Somali pirate capability and competence are increasing dramatically," he
how do they get on board? Part of the blame may fall on the crews of the
hijacked vessels. "They actually take them by surprise. One of the best and
first lines of defense is looking out the window. In this day of satellites and
GPS and all kinds of technological gizmos, there's no real substitute for the
human…eyeball. Look out the window," he says.
a Somali pirate attack, he says, "They come up fast and they'll do one of two
things. Either they'll throw a grappling hook over (and) climb up. Or…they'll
start shooting at you. Now, a lot of sailors will simply stop when they're
confronted with pirates wielding AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs)."
"The pirates are getting increasingly
vicious," he says, no longer just firing warning shots into the air. "I
understand now that from naval sources and also security risk management sources
that the pirates are now approaching vessels…targeting the bridges…deliberately
shooting out the windows in an attempt to intimidate the crew. And they've now
taken to the habit of firing rocket propelled grenades…directly into the
accommodation bloc (crew quarters). The idea there is to start a fire. If a
fire is started on board a ship it's exceptionally dangerous for the crew. So
they have to stop the defense of the ship, which means deploying fire hoses…and
put the fire out. When they do that, the pirates come on board."