Increase in Piracy across the Indian Ocean following Red Sea Crisis

 On 22 November 2023, the first confirmed hijacking of a vessel took place in Somalian waters since 2017. An Iranian fishing vessel the AL MIRAJ 1 was operating in Somali territorial waters off the town of Eyl when it was attacked and boarded by unknown armed men. The fishing vessel was believed to be carrying out Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing activities near Eyl in Puntland, local sources stated the vessel had been taken by a local gang to be used as a mothership to conduct piracy activities. Since this initial incident, there has been a total of 16 incidents that appear to be linked to the hijacking and piracy of vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. 

Executive Summary

Gulf of Aden

Maritime Incidents

 In January 2024, there was a surge in maritime security incidents which took place across a wide area of the IO and GOA region. The following reports provide details of these events. 

1. 02 January 2024
MSCHOA reported that a fishing vessel (FV) was hijacked by pirates near the town of Quandala, Somalia. No further details were provided. 

2. 04 January 2024
At least five unknown armed assailants reportedly boarded the Liberian-flagged LILA NORFOLK cargo vessel approximately 460 NM (850 km, 530 miles) east of Eyl, Somalia. The crew mustered in the citadel and were rescued 12 hrs later after the arrival of an Indian warship. The assailants are believed to have left the ship before the warship arrived. The crew consisted of 15 Indian nationals, all of whom we reported to be unharmed. 

3. 10 January 2024
A fishing vessel which was operating about 430nm east of Eyl, Somalia was approached by two vessels. The crew witnessed around 3 men getting into a skiff which began to approach the FV. The skiff approached the fishing vessel to within 800 meters. The armed security team on board the fishing vessel showed their weapons and the skiff aborted its approach and left the area.

4. 12 January 2024
Two Yemeni FVs were hijacked off Eyl, Somalia. No further details were given. 

5. 27 January 2024
UKMTO reported an incident involving a small craft and a merchant vessel 780nm east of Hafun, Somalia. A vessel was approached by a . Automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade were sighted. The small craft approached within 300 meters, until the onboard security team fired warning shots and the small craft retreated. 

6. 27 January 2024
A Sri Lankan fishing vessel (FV LORENZO PUTHA 4) operating approximately 750nm east of the Somalian coast, in the Indian Ocean, reported being approached by one skiff. A follow-up report released by MSCHOA stated that the vessel had been hijacked and was heading in the direction of the African coast. 

7. 29 January 2024
Six crew members from the Sri Lankan FV LORENZO PUTHA 4, which was hijacked by suspected pirates, were rescued by the Seychelles Coastguard 230nm northeast of Mahe Island, Seychelles Islands. Three suspected Somali pirates have been detained. The crew members were unharmed. 

Situational Report

On January 30, 2024, Operation ATALANTA, the EU Naval Force counter-piracy mission, issued an Alert for commercial shipping, indicating the likely presence of two Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) operating in the Indian Ocean. The first group is situated approximately 600 nautical miles east-southeast of Socotra Island, while the second is positioned around 00 34 N – 061 29 E. These PAGs may consist of a mother ship accompanied by several skiffs. Vessels were strongly advised to steer clear of these locations and exercise utmost caution if in proximity.

While the recent surge in maritime crime may not necessarily signify a return to full-fledged piracy, the existence of even a single PAG operating extensively in the Indian Ocean poses a significant threat to commercial cargo and fishing vessels in the region. According to local reports, at least 5 out of the 8 fishing vessels hijacked off the coast of Somalia in the last two months, including the incidents on January 12, have been repurposed for piracy. Despite some successful attempts by pirates, such as the MV RUAN and LILA NORFOLK, instances like the release of the crew from an Iranian Dhow in December, after pirates ran out of fuel, food, and water and returned to Puntland, highlight the unpredictable nature of these incidents.

The escalation of attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea and western Gulf of Aden has led to an increasing number of commercial vessels opting to circumvent the Cape of Good Hope to reach destinations in Europe or the US. This creates a substantial rise in potential targets for pirates, especially for vessels transiting to and from the Persian Gulf.

The upswing in hijacking incidents in the region can be attributed to two main factors: the growing resentment among local fishermen towards illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in their waters and the opportunistic actions of local criminals. This opportunism is likely fueled by the focus of international naval forces on events in the Red Sea, leaving a gap for criminal activities in the Indian Ocean. A graphic depicting the transit routes of commercial shipping, overlaid with the potential operational range of a Somalian PAG, is provided for reference.

Global Map

It is important to note that vessels employing armed guards have successfully thwarted attempted boardings by suspected pirates. Additionally, unprotected vessels that have been boarded, and subsequently followed BMP5 procedures, have experienced a more successful, albeit challenging, resolution.

Commercial ships now face a combination of threats in an increasingly unstable region, threats from Houthi attacks on one hand and now a resurgence of the threat of piracy. By acting with the best interests of their ships and crew in mind, ship operators have changed their trading routes and diverted their assets away from one threat source but unwittingly, may now be putting them at risk of a piracy attack. As always prevention by protection is paramount; we advise all vessels transiting the IO and GOA to register their voyage with UKMTO, conduct a thorough transit risk assessment, and adopt BMP 5 counter-piracy mitigation measures. 

Additional Information is available at the following links: 

EUNAVFOR MSCHOA – Maritime Security Centre Horn Of Africa 
UKMTO – UK Maritime Trade Operations 
CMF – Combined Maritime Forces 
BMP5 – Best Management Practises To Deter Piracy And Enhance Maritime Security In The Red Sea, Gulf Of Aden, Indian Ocean And Arabian Sea (High Resolution) 

At Priavo we understand the myriad of threats facing owners and operators today and deploy specialist teams for Super Yacht Security. Our operatives are all former members of the British Special Boat Service or ex-Royal Marine Commandos. They are highly trained, armed professionals in Maritime Security and provide both physical and electronic deterrence whilst on board – with experience of over 6,000 successful armed transits.

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