Maritime Focus: Quarter 1 2022

In the first quarter of 2022, the waters of Southeast Asia surpassed the Gulf of Guinea as the world’s most dangerous region for seafarers. During the first few months of this year, Securewest’s Maritime Assistance Centre (MAC) recorded 31 piracy incidents predominantly in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca, in comparison to 17 off the coast of West Africa. The vast majority of the reported incidents in the Singapore Strait were boardings and robberies targeting underway tankers and bulk carriers transiting the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). Although most of the incidents only involved the petty theft of ship’s stores and equipment; in some instances, perpetrators were reported to be armed with knives. A gun was also used to threaten crew members on one occasion.

The first quarter of 2022 is the first since 2010 where there has not been a crew kidnapping reported globally. This is particularly significant in the Gulf of Guinea where around 40 kidnappings were reported during the same period last year. This has coincided with a sharp decrease in the number of other piracy incidents taking place in the region, largely due to increased patrolling by both local and international navies. Recent months have seen warships from Russia, Denmark and Italy intervene during piracy incidents and improved cooperation between African states.

Last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted the tremendous work of the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Government of Nigeria to improve maritime security in the region. The decline seen in the first quarter of 2022 shows that these efforts have continued.

Despite this, on April 3rd 2022 a Marshall Islands flagged bulk carrier, ARCH GABRIEL, was boarded approximately 261nm SE of Accra, Ghana by an unknown number of pirates. The crew issued an alert and retreated to the onboard citadel. The Italian frigate, LUIGI RIZZO, responded and came to their assistance. The warship deployed their helicopter carrying a team of marines from the specially trained Marina San Marco Brigade, who regained control of the vessel and safely escorted her to an anchorage area closer to shore.

This is a clear and timely reminder of the threat posed by Pirate Attack Groups (PAGs) operating from the Niger Delta region who remain highly active, financially motivated and professional. The shipping community must not become complacent and should continue to exercise caution whilst transiting these waters.

Although the MAC reported no piracy incidents in the Gulf of Aden during the first quarter of 2022, the threat has not gone away. This is particularly true off the coast of Somalia, where well-established pirate networks retain the capability, knowledge and experience to hijack merchant vessels. Similarly, the instability in Yemen could quite easily translate into an increase in maritime security incidents in the southern Red Sea. All ships are encouraged to inform military organisations of their movement whilst transiting the Gulf of Aden as this is essential to improve situational awareness and their ability to respond. The two principal organisations to contact are the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA).

In the coming months, it is highly likely that we will see an upsurge in the number of migrants attempting the perilous journey across the English Channel from France to the British mainland. Official government figures indicate that 28,526 people made the crossing last year but, according to a union representing U.K. Border Force personnel, the number is expected to double in 2022. In March 2022, more than 3,000 people arrived in small boats, compared to only 831 in March 2021. This month the Ministry of Defence, led by the Royal Navy, took primary operational command of the country’s response to small boat crossings in the channel. Despite this, and the government’s other new plans to tackle the influx of migrant crossings, it’s likely that the figure will continue to rise as the organised smuggling gangs who control the lucrative business will look to exploit the warmer weather and improved sea conditions.

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