There are some marked differences in tactics between pirates operating off the coast of Somalia and in the area around Indonesia and the South China Sea, our kidnap and ransom expert told me.
Will Miller, a divisional director in the Special Contingency Risks division of Willis who also blogs for WillisWire, says that while pirates in South East Asia are evolving their tactics and learning some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ from their counterparts in the Gulf of Aden, ship operators are correspondingly improving their resilience to pirate attacks and the naval response has become even more coordinated.
Nevertheless, the threat level particularly off the coast of Indonesia and in the South China Sea is prevalent and it should not be discounted, he says.
“Pirates operating in South East Asia tend to be more opportunistic than Somali pirates. They don’t have the organisation that Somali pirates have, such as being able to go to sea for months and keeping themselves supplied with food and water from a ‘mothership’. They also tend to be more like sea robbers who launch their attacks to board ships and steal the crews’ possessions as opposed to hijacking and stealing the whole ship, which is much more common in the Gulf of Aden.”
Copycat Piracy Tactics
But Miller says that copycat pirates in South East Asia are learning tactics from Somali pirates. Mimicking the ‘mothership’ refuelling station tactic used by pirates off the coast of Somalia, pirates in Indonesia and Malaysia tend to camp on a small island near to narrow shipping lanes and launch their strikes from there, he explains.
Shipping channels in South East Asia tend to be narrow and quite restrictive, unlike the vast expanses of sea in the Indian Ocean. This makes it easier for the pirates to target ships.
Pirates in South East Asia also tend to launch their attacks at night, which makes it much harder for ship captains to spot them coming.
All things considered, Miller says he is yet to see the insurance market impose higher prices on ship operators in South East Asia. “There certainly hasn’t been anything like the huge upswing in interest for insurance that we saw in the Gulf of Aden in the wake of all the media attention that Somali piracy has received,” he says.
Miller also notes that overall there has been a big reduction in the number of successful ship hijackings by pirates. He puts this down to better preparation and security measures being adopted by the ship operators combined with an effective naval response.
Over the last few years, the naval forces of various countries have developed a more coordinated response, he says. “In 2009, for example, there were roughly 26 naval assets patrolling the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden combined. That’s like having 26 police cars patrolling an area the size of the EU. Today that number is much higher.”