Yemen's descent into chaos fuels piracy fears
By Peter Shaw-Smith
September 26, 2011 6:14 pm
As the Indian Ocean monsoons wane,
zz1YwRB7Jcl> international shipping companies are bracing themselves for a
new season of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, fearing fresh involvement from
actors beyond Somalia.
The rains and rough seas of the monsoon season which runs from June to
September have traditionally seen a lull in activity. But last month two
chemical tankers were seized in Omani territorial waters, one at anchorage
two miles off Salalah, the sultanate's main southern port.
Worldwide, pirate attacks have been increasing. According to the
International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre, attacks on the
world's seas totalled 266 in the first six months of this year, up from 196
incidents in the same period last year.
published earlier this month showed the worldwide figure had risen to 335
events. Somali involvement stood at 188 incidents, with 24 hijackings, 400
crew members held hostage and eight killed.
Now the deteriorating domestic security situation in Yemen is adding to
concerns. Sana'a, the capital, has seen days of bloody street battles
following the unexpected return of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president. Even
in more peaceful times, Mr Saleh's authority outside the Yemeni capital was
"Yemen is spinning apart and people there are wondering where their next
paycheck or meal is coming from," says Michael Frodl, head of C-Level
Maritime Risks, a US consultancy.
"Some Yemenis are looking back to piracy themselves, or even just
"facilitating" the piracy of others, be they Yemeni or Somali or even
Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf
Military Analysis (Inegma), agrees there is collusion from Yemeni coastal
actors with the pirates.
Pirates have learnt to discern vessels owned by companies who have paid
large ransoms, and are ignoring tonnage belonging to "bad payers".
"Ships being intercepted so precisely should indicate that there is a
sophisticated intelligence network for the pirates, providing them with
information on the whereabouts and heading of ships," says Mr. Kahwaji. "You
can only gain this information [through] ports overlooking the Gulf of
The scourge of piracy and the sustained unrest of the past months has hit
Yemen hard. In 2008, throughput at Aden, Yemen's biggest port, was 40,000
twenty-foot-equivalent-units (TEU) a month, a common industry measurement.
That number fell to 27,000 in 2009 but recovered to 30,000 in 2010.
Abhishek Tandon of UK-based Drewry Shipping Consultants says that
year-to-date data suggest that the average has plummeted to an all-time low
of 14,000 TEU per month this year.
Aden is Yemen's primary port for container handling. It also has four tanker
Other historic Yemeni ports such as Mukalla and Mokha have only limited
cargo handling equipment and infrastructure.
"The combined effect of piracy at its peak, the extremely volatile situation
in the country and development of other transshipment hubs in its vicinity
like Dholera (on India's west coast), Jeddah and Salalah have reduced its
chances," says Mr Tandon.
Aden was hit when Pacific International Line, a main-line operator, shifted
its transshipment hub from Aden to Djibouti and no replacement has been
World obtained concessions in Aden and Mukalla in 2008. Asked about the
future of those concessions, a DP World spokesperson says:
"As we have said previously, unrest in the Middle East earlier this year
impacted throughput at some of our terminals in the region but ours is a
long-term business and we have no intention of pulling out of Aden."
Nigel Chevriot of PIL Yemen says that there are difficulties in moving cargo
from Yemen's ports to the main markets of Sana'a and Taiz.
Yemeni merchants are nervous over a possible worsening of the crisis. They
have been reducing stocks and are finding it hard to obtain credit, he says.
Mr Frodl says that Yemenis, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Omanis, and even Iranians
are going out to sea and do not need Somalis to lead them. Nationals from
all these countries have been picked up already by the navies operating in
the Indian Ocean.
The international shipping community has not been passive in the face of the
piracy threat. In 2009 it created the
zz1YwRB7Jcl> International Recommended Transit Corridor under which ships
approaching the Gulf of Aden form convoys under warship escort drawn from
the European Union, the US and China.
Moreover, few observers believe that the pirates will be able to extend
their activities inside the Straits of Hormuz due to the heavy US navy
presence among others.
But risk analysts say that piracy in the Indian Ocean remains a relatively
low-risk occupation and that Somalis are inspiring others in the region to
think of piracy as a career or industry given how well it pays and how
little risk it entails.
"There will likely be a resurgence in piracy in the western Indian Ocean
(including up to the Straits of Hormuz) as the weather becomes more
favourable for small boat operation," says the head of a Europe-based
umbrella shipping organisation.
"It is likely that, inter alia, disaffected groups from Yemen will see this
as a good business opportunity and either join Somalis or conduct copycat
activity," he says.
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Sep 26 2011 - 17:22:41 EDT