Do you Know These Two Tactics Being Used by Pirates in 2022?
Updated: May 6, 2022
Like many other crimes, piracy has developed in tandem with the responses employed to prevent and deter it. As such, piracy today looks different from the swashbuckling vigilantes presented in media such as Pirates of the Caribbean. Even contemporary piracy looks different from 2011 at the height of Somalian hostage taking. Given the current data, this report will explore the development of piracy attack scenarios and show what the most likely attack scenario will be for 2022.
Legally, What is Piracy?
Defining piracy and what it seeks to achieve to understand pirate attacks is essential. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy can cover acts such as robbery, detention of people and violence, including kidnapping for profit. Despite this, many shipping companies do not formally recognise armed robbery as piracy, and as a result, many attacks in areas like South East Asia go unreported.
"Many shipping companies do not formally recognise armed robbery as piracy"
Non-state actors commit these acts on the high seas out of the jurisdiction of a single state. The local authorities' response may be ambiguous or delayed because one state is not responsible for maritime security on the open seas.
As maritime shipping is responsible for 90% of world trade and is valued at around $13 trillion, there is undoubtedly money to be made through ransoms and theft.
Pirates have a lot to consider when choosing a target. The main goal is to balance an easy boarding with a reward worthy enough of the risk taken by committing an act of piracy. As a result, pirates will analyse a ship's speed, size, voyage, flag and vessel type, security response and defences onboard to indicate potential profit. During the height of Somali piracy, this was seen where organised crime gangs used data and intelligence combined with live information on AIS (automatic identification system) data to target specific ships.
There are two main piracy tactics in 2022; first, let us consider the threat that causes ship operators and crew the most significant concern; piracy attacks in West Africa.
"Pirates use data, intelligence and AIS to target ships"
Piracy Tactics in Africa
Piracy in Africa consists of tactics in overwhelming firepower to capture full vessels and hostages for ransom. This traces its origins back to Somalia and saw groups using motherships, usually captured trawlers or small freighter vessels, as launching bases for smaller boats to speed off and attempt to board ships. Pirates used firepower in the form of AK-47s, RPK light machine guns, and RPGs to intimidate the crew and not retaliate, allowing them to board. The ship's crew would usually be taken hostage and held on board the vessel for hefty ransoms.
Whilst Somali piracy today has been suppressed by international naval forces, their tactics are used in West Africa in places like the Gulf of Guinea. Their business model differs slightly, with the crews being held for ransom ashore in jungle camps and the vessel being left adrift.
Piracy Tactics in South East Asia
Piracy in South East Asia, the South China Sea, Malacca Straights and even South America is more covert with attempts to catch the crew off guard or slip past them entirely unnoticed. The ICC International Maritime Bureau report for the first quarter of 2022 reported 37 incidents of piracy with 34 ships boarded, with no loss of control of the boat, one ship hijacked, with loss of the ship's controls to the pirates, two attempted boardings and no kidnappings. Moreover, attacks were mainly committed with knives when the vessel was at anchor. A ReCaap report for 2019-2020 focused on the Singapore Straights based on data such as the
"Pirates use stealth to board and move around the vessel undetected, resorting to violence when confronted"
Singapore Vessel Traffic Service indicates that these attacks mainly occur with groups of 4-6 pirates, with only 3% ever having firearms. Crew members would be alerted by seeing footprints, missing cargo, or spotting the pirates on board during routine checks. When the crew mobilised or external help arrived, the pirates usually escaped with cargo or parts of the ship such as spare mechanical components.
The ICC report indicates that violence was mainly a last resort if the pirates were confronted and could not escape. Therefore, the main problem in the maritime security industry now lies with boarding actions and not with the ability of the crew to defend themselves against becoming hostages.
Out of the 37 attacks in the first quarter of 2022, most took place in South East Asia or South America. Attacks in West Africa have declined compared to the numbers seen in previous years. This can be attributed to the increase in naval gunships in the region. However, the threat is still critical, highlighted by the recent hijacking of the MV Kamome Victoria on the 4th of May 2022, 100km South West of Benin, as reported on https://maritimedanmark.dk/?Id=48373
Summarising the Two Tactics to be Used in 2022
To summarise, the most likely attack strategy for 2022 involves covert tactics to avoid detection and steal as much cargo as possible in South East Asia. And in West Africa, crews should be prepared to be exposed to heavy weapons and gunfire and expect an aggressive boarding with the intent of pirates to hold them hostage ashore.
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