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Indian Ocean High Risk Designation to be Withdrawn at End of 2022

Africa Somalia end of high risk designation for shipping
EU NavFor protects commercial shipping in the region (EU Naval Force - Somalia)

Published Aug 22, 2022 3:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Further reflecting the progress that has been made in reducing the danger of piracy off the east coast of Africa and into the Indian Ocean, the shipping industry plans to formally end the “High Risk Area,” designation as of the first of the year. While a level of risk remains, they highlight that there have been no boardings in nearly four years with the last reports coming in 2019 of pirates being scared away by EU forces after menacing a vessel near the Horn of Africa.

The official notification of the plan to end the designation was submitted to the International Maritime Organization, today, August 22, to be reviewed and approved at the next meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee scheduled to start on October 31. 2022. The decision to end the designation was made by the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, International Marine Contractors Association, INTERCARGO, INTERTANKO, and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum.

“This announcement is a testament to nearly 15 years of dedicated collaboration to reduce the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean. Through a combination of efforts by military, political, civil society, and the shipping industry over the years, operators and seafarers are now able to operate with increased confidence in these waters,” the groups said in their joint statement to the IMO. 

The designation of the region as a High Risk Area began in 2010 near the peak of the attacks on ships near the Horn of Africa. Two years earlier, the Council of the European Union adopted an action plan based on UN resolutions, to establish the executive EU military maritime operation for Somalia. Known as Operation ATALANTA, the mission was the deterrence, prevention, and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast.

At the height of Somali piracy in January 2011, EU Naval Force – Somalia reports there were 736 hostages and 32 ships being held by pirates. The combined efforts contributed to a reduction in activity so that two years later they were able to report that there had been no successful hijackings of a commercial vessel and the last confirmed attack on a vessel came in 2018. EU NavFor reported that it chased away a small boat in 2019 but Iran has continued to report that its navy has intervened in recent attacks. The EU mission was extended in 2020 to continue to patrol the waters and specifically to protect commercial ships in the World Food Program and others that might be vulnerable to attack. EU NavFor’s mandate is currently scheduled to end on December 31, 2022.

The removal of the HRA reflects a significantly improved piracy situation in the region, said the organizations. A year ago, they had reduced the size of the designated region, but they said today the end of the designation would not come till year’s end allowing charterers, shipowners, and operators time to adapt to the changed threat from piracy. The groups continue to warn, however, that threat and risk assessments should still be carried out and ships are still encouraged to report to the UKMTO and register with the Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa under the Voluntary Reporting Area administered by UKMTO.

Late in 2021, the UN Security Council began efforts to scale back and end the international programs in the region. As late as March 2022, the EU expressed, however, concern over ending the program while there remains political unrest in Somalia.