Attempted hijackings increase in 2011

Although piracy at sea happens off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, and Venezuela, East and West Africa accounted for the majority of world attacks in 2011. International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report, issued in January this year, reported 439 attacks in 2011, with 275 of those taking place off Somalia on the east coast and in the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. Of the 275 Somali attacks, only 28 resulted in successful hijackings, which was a decrease from 49 the year before.

Graham Westgarth, Teekay Corporation’s Executive Vice President Innovation, Technology and Projects, says, “There was an increase in attempted hijackings off the coast of Somalia in 2011 compared to 2010, but the number of successful hijackings dropped. This is largely due to increased naval forces in the area, an increase in the use of armed guards on board the ships and better compliance with the industry-developed best management practices. Despite this reduction in hijackings, the shipping industry agrees that even one hijacking is too many and more efforts are needed to end this atrocity.” 

From its operational headquarters in Vancouver, Teekay operates a fleet of 150 vessels transporting crude oil and gas around the world. The company also offers offshore oil production, storage, and offloading services. In addition to its conventional crude oil tankers, Teekay is the world’s largest owner and operator of shuttle tankers with over 50 per cent of the worldwide fleet.

“Naval forces have been more active and proactive in engaging suspected pirates, but once captured, pirates are too often released,” Graham Westgarth continued. “National governments hold the key to resolving this crisis. But they have been slow to face reality and act in a coordinated way. Their brief to the naval forces has, in most cases, been simply to deter and disrupt unless it involves a national interest. Prosecution of pirates, continued disruption of piracy activity and a solution ashore are all vital.”

Piracy cost $7 billion globally in 2011

Mr. Westgarth notes, “Teekay has a significant number of vessels trading in piracy zones. Our vessels follow best management practices that include using barbed wire, using fire hoses to create a water curtain around a ship, travelling in convoys, and hiring armed guards. These measures can add up to $100,000 and four or five days travel time to each ship’s voyage. To date, no Teekay vessel has been attacked, but we’ve been approached. Often if a target vessel exhibits some awareness, the pirate skiffs leave, looking for a softer target.”

Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) estimated that piracy cost nearly $7 billion in 2011. Over 80 per cent of those costs are borne by the shipping industry, with the balance of the cost covered by governments. OBP is a project of the private Denver-based One Earth Foundation, one of numerous private and public organizations seeking solutions to global piracy.

The 2011 hijackings resulted in 802 crew members taken hostage, a drop from the four-year high of 1,118 in 2010. Worldwide, forty-five vessels were hijacked, 176 vessels boarded, 113 vessels fired upon and 105 reported attempted attacks. A total of eight crew members were killed in the 2011 attacks. IMB’s report showed a slight drop in the total number of recorded incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide, with 439 incidents in 2011 compared to 445 in 2010.

Help from international naval presence

International Maritime Bureau adds in its report that the overall figures for Somali piracy would have been much higher if not for the continued efforts of international navies. They note that in the last quarter of 2011, pre-emptive strikes by international forces disrupted at least 20 pirate action groups before they became a threat to commercial fleets.

The report illustrates that while Somali attacks were predominantly concentrated at the crossroads of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, 2011 marked the first Somali hijacking of an anchored vessel within the territorial waters of a foreign state (Oman), highlighting the need for ports and anchored ships to be alert.

Nigerian waters are of concern; IMB suggests that attacks in this region are under-reported. In Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, 10 reports of armed robbery came from Bangladesh, a significant reduction from the 23 incidents reported in 2010. Indonesia has seen a rise in armed robbery for the second straight year. The incidents continue to be local and opportunistic, according to IMB, and are usually against anchored vessels.  Attacks in the South China Sea fell from 31 in 2010 to 13 in 2011.

A vital part of the world’s supply chain, the international shipping industry carries about 90 per cent of world trade, has over 50,000 merchant ships, including passenger and container ships, tankers as well as general cargo vessels, manned by over a million seafarers of every nationality. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that the operation of these merchant ships contributes about US$380 billion in freight rates within the global economy, equivalent to about 5 per cent of total world trade.