- BMP4 High Risk Area (HRA) reduction in Indian Ocean to come into force on Tuesday 1 December 2015
- Significant development which will be received favourably by many in shipping industry but could send false signal
- Ships which relax security measures in response to HRA reduction could be targeted by opportunistic Somali pirates
- Current political instability in Somalia and illegal fishing off coast suggest return to piracy a genuine possibility
Shipping companies could find themselves victims of Somali pirate attacks as a result of the reduction of the High Risk Area (HRA) in the western Indian Ocean coming into force from today, MAST has warned.
The decision announced by the Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (GCPCS) in October to reduce the HRA off the coast of Somalia was welcomed by many sections of the Shipping industry, but this could ultimately increase the number of attacks by opportunistic and organised pirate groups, Gerry Northwood, COO of Maritime Asset Security & Training, has said.
Northwood, a former Royal Navy counter-piracy commander who was part of the task force which originally created the HRA, believes that vessels potentially relaxing their security measures, coupled with political instability in Somalia and illegal fishing off its coast, could encourage pirates to attack commercial ships again.
Gerry Northwood said:
“It will be interesting to see over the coming months how both shipping companies and Somali pirate investors react to the HRA reduction. It is vital that shipping companies operating in the Indian Ocean do not become complacent with the safety of their crew and do not erode the security measures which have proved so successful since 2012. It is these procedures, alongside the presence of many international navies, which have made the Indian Ocean one of the safest oceans in the world for commercial shipping.
“Illegal fishing off Somalia's coast and the lack of stability within the Somali political system mean that a return to piracy by some of those worst affected is a real possibility. Illegal fishing in particular is taking crucial revenues away from coastal regions, which in turn is increasing the attractiveness of targeted pirate attacks against ships within range. Indeed only in the last week has an Iranian fishing vessel been hijacked and its crew taken hostage while fishing in Somali waters.”
This reduction will also be watched closely by the Insurance industry and wider business community as any return to the level of piracy seen in the western Indian Ocean in 2011 & 2012 would have a very detrimental effect on insurance rates and some companies' revenues.
Gerry Northwood continued: “The Insurance industry is awaiting any decision by the Joint War Committee at Lloyd's of London before knowing whether the HRA reduction will have any real impact on the cost of insurance, but it is likely there will be a very limited impact unless they decide to reduce the size of the HRA too. Somali piracy cost the global economy around $6bn in 2012 and resulted in the hijacking of hundreds of vessels, so a return to that must be avoided at all costs.”
The Joint War Committee at Lloyd's is due to meet later in December to discuss the issue of the High Risk Area in the Indian Ocean, although it is thought unlikely they will follow suit in reducing its size.
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