Small oil products tankers are increasingly being targeted off Indonesia’s Bintan Island for hijack by organised criminals who steal their cargoes.
More coastal tankers with capacities of less than 5,000 dwt are being held up, their cargoes siphoned off and sold to local fishermen and bunker barge operators in the area, according to International Maritime Bureau (IMB) director Captain Pottengal Mukundan.
Some 16 vessels were hijacked, mainly in the southern approaches to the South China Sea, during 2014, and nine have already been attacked this year, he told an International Maritime Industries Forum briefing. About 30 pirates in six fishing boats attacked a loaded tanker in the latest attack on 15 May.
It means an average this year of an attack every two weeks compared with one every three weeks in 2014 — mainly involving gas oil and marine diesel oil cargoes.
The pirates target small ships as they are easy to board because they sit so low in the water when loaded.
“They have no interest in attacking bigger ships or crude oil, and the decline in oil prices has not lessened their enthusiasm,” Mukundan said.
He says small, overworked crews on the tankers are unable to keep proper watch during the night to prevent attacks.
“The pirates want to attack by stealth. If the crew make them aware they have been detected by manoeuvring, blowing the ship’s horn and directing search lights on their skiffs, in most case they tend to move away,” Mukundan said.
But he adds that the IMB is working closely with the Indonesian police to provide safe anchorage in 11 ports patrolled by their vessels where the incidence of low-level piracy, normally robbery from the ships, has fallen in all but three terminals.
West Africa attacks down
The number of attacks in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea has also been lower but the pirates generally attack larger ships, stealing part-cargo loads up to 10,000 tonnes of oil from 30,000-dwt to 40,000-dwt tankers, and the level of violence can be much higher.However, Mukundan says the IMB estimates that two-thirds of all ships attacked off West Africa do not report pirate attempts.
He says captains and companies fear vessel delays, potential retaliation in port and increased insurance levels — and do not believe anything will be done if they do report attempted attacks. He adds that there is no evidence of insurance rates being lifted after attempted attacks are reported.
One bright spot is that there have been no successful attacks off Somalia so far this year, although Mukundan says the pirates have not gone away. Seven-metre-long boarding ladders were carried by raiders in four of 11 reported attacks in 2014.
However, Mukundan is concerned about what will happen after 2016 if the European Union (EU) Navfor presence is downgraded as planned.
“If there is another successful attack, the pirates will mobilise very quickly but it will take eight months or probably longer to get navies back there and all the advantages that have been gained will disappear,” he said.
Mukundan called for the naval presence to be continued, and a single common and simplified reporting system to be set up, with information shared between regional anti-piracy centres.
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