Britain has agreed to fund a £6 million programme to support counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean as evidence grows of increasing levels of violence being used against international seafarers.
The UK government funds will be used to help improve maritime surveillance of pirates off the Somali coast and to increase prison capacity in the region to try and ensure that suspects are prosecuted and those found guilty of piracy imprisoned.
The issue is vital as there are currently around 800 Somali pirates either serving sentences or awaiting trial.
The UK announcement comes as reports indicate a change in tactics by Somali pirates faced with the increased arming of merchant ships in the region.
With virtually the whole of the western Indian Ocean now declared an ‘at risk area’, by international shipping companies, seafarers will have the right to refuse to serve on ships sailing to East African ports or up through the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea.
There were 97 pirate attacks off the Somali coast and in the Indian Ocean in the first three months of this year alone.
In this time 344 seafarers were taken hostage, seven killed and 34 injured.
Armed security teams
London-based security firm Concept Tactical Worldwide managing director Casey Christie, said the increased use of armed security teams on merchant ships is leading to a change in pirate tactics.
“They now launch probe attacks on targeted vessels,” Mr Christie said. “They approach and make their intentions clear and if the presence of an armed security team is detected the attack is broken off.
“I find this new trend to be worrying. The Somali pirates are not a ragtag bunch but a co-ordinated syndicate and the current probe attack is a type of intelligence gathering and battlefield calculation. Piracy has been making these criminals dollar millionaires and they will stop at nothing.”
Mr Christie predicted that the result will eventually be small wars on the open sea with international naval forces powerless to prevent them.
International Maritime Bureau director Pottengal Mukundan agreed with the fears, predicating that pirates “will kill more people, including hostages and security officers.”