Experts warn Somali piracy season could be longer and more violent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am


Pirate attacks on merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea could become more violent and sustained when the new season for Somali pirate attacks starts shortly, maritime security experts say.

The alert comes ahead of a visit to Hong Kong next week by European and Canadian naval officers serving with anti-piracy forces. They will brief local and mainland shipowners and operators on pirate activity off the coast of Somalia.

The November 4 meeting marks the largest group of military personnel to visit the city to discuss piracy issues since mainland and British naval officers met in 2009.

Dominic Mee, president of Protection Vessels International, whose company has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, said the next few months promised to be 'a very tough season'. There were likely to be more pirates and they would be more active and prone to violence.

A large number of attacks had been foiled in recent months by naval action or private armed guards onboard ships and the number of ships being held by pirates each week fell to nine last week from a peak of about 35 earlier in the year.

Mee, speaking on the sidelines of the HansonWade 'combating piracy' conference in London, said higher ransom payments would encourage more raiders to put to sea, while pirates also faced pressure from 'investors' who funded pirate activities.

As a result he said pirates were 'hungry' and this year 'may be the worst we have seen' with attacks lasting longer and with more firepower.

Tim Hart, of Maritime & Underwater Security Consultants, said a 'new ruthless generation of pirate' was active compared with the former fishermen who were involved in the early attacks in 2007 and 2008.

Naval officers also privately acknowledged merchant shipping could face a bigger piracy threat with the start of the new 'season', when weather in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea moderates from next month.

The warning comes as China prepares to take control of a newly created naval convoy co-ordination group that will oversee warship escorts provided by navies of China, India, Russia and other non-aligned nations.

Captain Keith Blount, chief of staff of European Union naval forces, said the formation of the new co-ordination group, starting on January 1, would provide more efficient naval coverage in the area.