Pirates Move South: Recent Attacks A Cause For Concern

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September 28, 2011

A recent pair of attacks in the Mozambique Channel spark fears that pirates may be moving further South than expected. 

By David Rider, Neptune Maritime Security

The International Maritime Bureau had previously warned of potential activity in the area and, ironically, on the day of the first attempted attack (as described by the IMB’s Live Piracy Reporting Centre), September 21st, Defence analyst Helmeod-Römer Heitman told a security seminar in Pretoria that: “Both sides [of the channel] are not particularly densely populated, are seriously under-policed and there is a lot of shipping going through.”

The two incidents we draw attention to took place on September 21st and 23rd in the area of the Glorioso Islands in the Northern Mozambique Channel, off the coast of Madagascar.

In the attempted attack on September 21st, the IMB report stated that the crew of a container ship underway at position 12:46.6S-046:18.5E spotted two skiffs at 0643 UTC, with three to four people aboard each skiff at a distance of approximately 1.5nm. The skiffs increased speed to around 18 knots and approached the container ship from different sides. The vessel carried out evasive manoeuvres and enforced anti-piracy measures which led to the skiffs breaking off their pursuit after around 25 minutes.

The second attempted attack, on September 23rd, took place at 0850 UTC, when a bulk carrier underway at position 12:16.1S-043:19.5E noticed two blue-coloured skiffs at a distance of approximately 1nm. The Master raised the alarm and alerted the armed security team onboard the carrier.

The skiffs approached at a speed of 20 knots and the IMB report notes that the occupants were armed with RPG- 7s. As the skiffs came to within 300 metres of the bulk carrier, they spotted the armed security team, reduced their approach speed and circled the vessel for a few minutes before moving away. No shots were reportedly fired by the armed Vessel Protection Team.

Although the attempted attacks occurred approximately 177 nautical miles apart, two attempts in the area in a matter of days must raise concerns. The move of pirates further South along the coast of Kenya was reinforced by the attack on the Greek-owned MV Pacific Express at 04:47S-044:35E on September 20th. Whether this was conducted by the same Pirate Attack Group (PAG) who then moved further South is unknown at this time.

Helmoed-Römer Heitman stated during his presentation that Madagascar, with more than 4 000 kilometres of coastline, had one patrol craft and one landing craft. Whilst the South African Navy Valour-class frigate SAS Mendi (F148) is heading for Pemba port in Northern Mozambique to take up her second anti-piracy patrol in the Northern Channel, we would remind everyone that this is a large area of water to patrol, and that all precautions should be taken during transit in the area. NATO’s Shipping Centre has itself warned of the dangers to shipping in the area, suggesting that there are two or three PAGs in the area and that they may move towards the Mozambique Channel as well as Eastwards.

Whilst two attempted attacks in the region are not statistically significant, they did occur further South than many security experts might have predicted, while their separation in terms of time and location should be noted by any companies with vessels in transit in the area. As ever, Neptune Maritime Security will monitor the situation for further developments and will update the maritime community should it become necessary.

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