Further to our previous media releases detailing a potential new trend in pirate tactics in an area of the Red Sea off Eritrea, Neptune Maritime Security has had the opportunity to examine the available data through our Intelligence Bank, including material supplied by intelligence sources, and presents the following report to interested parties.
In July, pirate activity off Eritrea was limited to small numbers of pirates mounting similarly small-scale attacks on shipping. For example, on July 20th, an oil tanker, Front Pride, was attacked by a single skiff containing six pirates while underway in position 13:27N-042:39E, approximately 27nm NW off Assab, Eritrea. Pirates fired an RPG at the vessel, but the armed security team onboard returned fire and the pirates aborted the attack.
Then, on July 21st, a cargo vessel was fired upon by a single skiff containing six pirates while underway in position 13:29N 042:26E, approximately 30nm off Assab. The location of this second attempted hijacking is just 3.5nm from the scene of the incident on the previous day and it is highly likely that this was the same pirate group. On this occasion, the attempt was again deterred by armed security personnel onboard the cargo vessel.
This incident occurred some 48nm away from the first ‘swarm’ attack on August 7th (see Figure 2, Attack 1), but without further intelligence, it is impossible for us to state whether this was a small raiding party or a single pirate group on a scouting mission operating far from their base of operations. Indeed, both incidents may be entirely unrelated to the spate of attempted swarm attacks in August, although their proximity to three of the attempted hijackings in August does suggest that pirates have been driven into the Red Sea by local monsoon conditions in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast.
Neptune Maritime Security highlighted the swarm attack of August 7th (Figure 2, Attack 1), when (according to a report from the IMB’s Live Piracy Reporting Centre*) 12 skiffs containing between five and eight pirates per skiff and armed with firearms and boarding ladders, attacked a bulk carrier underway at 13:02N-043:07E, approximately 20nm off the coast of Eritrea.
As the pirate skiffs approached to within 300m of the carrier, the Master ordered the armed security guards onboard the carrier to fire warning shots at the skiffs. While the majority of pirates aborted their attempt, two skiffs continued to pursue the carrier for some 30 minutes, returning fire until they, too finally aborted. If the report is accurate, then this leaves us with a minimum of 60 pirates attacking a vessel en masse and, as Neptune Maritime Security noted at the time, had there been no armed security team onboard the carrier, the story may well have had a very different
Following our media release, word reached us via our colleagues at OCEANUSLive.org of another incident in the Red Sea on August 10th (Figure 2, Attack 2). This took place at 13:08N-043:07E, just under 6.5nm away from the August 7th incident. On this occasion, a Panama-flagged chemical tanker, Golden Topstar, was pursued whilst underway by pirates in 12 skiffs at 1850 LT. The vessel evaded the attack by firing flares and engaging in evasive manoeuvres. The incident was listed by the IMO as having been reported via ReCAAP.org. Two incidents involving 12 skiffs and large numbers of pirates, less than 6.5nm apart cannot be coincidental and is surely cause for concern.
A third attack (Figure 2, Attack 3) occurred on August 17th (initially listed by the Live Piracy Reporting Centre as August 18th*). A bulk carrier underway, approximately 22nm off Assab, Eritrea at 13:16N-043:01E, was approached by seven high-speed boats with each boat containing three to five men armed with automatic weapons. Again, underestimating the number of attackers to just 21 still leaves us with a large hostile force. On this occasion, the attack was repelled due to the carrier increasing speed and adopting evasive manoeuvres. It should also be noted that the site of this attack is less than 10.2nm away from the incident on August 10th.
Further evidence of pirates swarming vessels occurred on August 20th, at the mouth of the Red Sea at Bab-el- Mandeb, although we lack an exact map reference for it. The incident involved the bulk carrier, SAEI, and saw a concerted, lengthy attack by a large pirate force. According to the Iranian Navy, who ultimately came to the SAEI’s rescue, the first attack occurred at around 15:00 LT and saw four skiffs containing 20 pirates engage the vessel. The second attack saw eight skiffs with a force of 40 pirates while the third and final attempt featured two skiffs with 12 pirates onboard*.
The final incident we would like to highlight in the Red Sea occurred on August 24th* and involved the Republic of Korea-flagged bulk carrier, MV Amber Sun. The incident took place in the Southern Red Sea at 14:36.4N-042:21.9E, some 88.5nm away from the attack on August 17th. This attack saw two skiffs approach the vessel as it was underway at a speed of 12 knots. The Master raised the alarm and as the skiffs approached the MV Amber Sun, the armed security team onboard took preventative measures, repelling the attack. The ‘preventative measures’ mentioned in the report are not expanded upon.
Given the distance between this attempted hijacking and the attack on August 17th, it is entirely possible that these are unrelated. However, from the data we have examined, it would seem clear that pirate activity in the Red Sea area and the new trend of attacking in large groups are something that all shipping companies and vessels transiting the area should be aware of and prepared for. With the end of the monsoon season imminent, Neptune Maritime Security will continue to monitor the situation to see if this tactic is adopted by pirates elsewhere in the High Risk Area (HRA).
(Report compiled by David Rider on behalf of Neptune Maritime Security.)
Source 1: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/live-piracy-report/table/2226/0
Source 2: *Source: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/live-piracy-report/details/57/325
Source 3: IMO number: 9387815
Source 4: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/live-piracy-report/details/57/335
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