Pirates off the coast of Somalia have seized a Chinese fishing boat and 24 crew members including Vietnamese, Philippine and Japanese citizens.
Pirates often use speedboats and automatic weapons to attack cargo ships
The Gulf of Aden is located in the Indian Ocean, situated between Yemen on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in Africa.
There has been an unprecedented rise in the number of hijackings in the area and especially in Somalia,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, the Director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). “This year alone, we have had 33 vessels hijacked and 655 crew taken hostage.”
“As we speak, there are 12 vessels held by pirates in Somalia with 238 crew members on board.”
Asian vessels often targeted
Often, Asian crew members are the victims of these attacks. Last month, a South Korean ship with 21 Asian sailors was hijacked near Somalia but it was later freed.
Earlier this week, a Filipino chemical tanker with 21 crew members on board was hijacked. The crew members remain in captivity.
The gulf is extremely strategic, as “all the ships carrying cargo from Europe to Asia have to go through the Gulf of Aden,” explained Mukundan. “The only alternative route is to go via South Africa, which is very expensive and very long.
“As a result of these attacks, some ship owners are considering the option of going around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa but that is not economically a good thing“
Speedboats and automatic weapons
Pirates tend to use speedboats and automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to hijack vessels. Once an attack is successful and a vessel is hijacked, the IMB report says, pirates sail towards the Somali coast and demand a ransom for the release of the vessel and crew.
According to the Asian Ship Owner Forum, huge ransoms have been paid by distressed Asian ship owners to secure the release of their ships and to protect the lives of their seafarers on board from harm by the pirates.
Piracy in the Gulf of Aden has already cost an estimated 18 to 30 million US dollars in such ransom payments and has turned the area into the world's most dangerous waterway.
Serious global consequences
The threat facing the shipping industry also has serious global consequences.
“If the piracy problem in the Gulf of Aden is not addressed, it could have an impact on the consumer market,” said Gavin Simmonds from the British Chamber of Shipping, “ because of the large percentage of EU imports through that area.”
“Obviously because the Gulf of Aden leads to the Suez Canal, the impact of any disruption is very severe and immediate. It increases the cost of shipping and creates delays, which could in the long term cause shortages”.
The European Union is to launch an anti piracy naval operation next month in an attempt to combat piracy in the region, however experts speculate that Somali pirates are unlikely to be scared off by the operation and will carry on attacking and hijacking ships.