On Monday, the International Chamber of Shipping hailed the renewal of the mandate for the EU's anti-piracy mission off Somalia, known as EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta.
The renewal will see European naval forces deployed near Somalia until the end of 2018. The European Council has provided the mission with an annual operating budget of $12 million.
"The presence of military forces is an essential component of the package of government actions that has helped to suppress the activities of Somali pirates, in support of the protective measures that continue to be taken by the shipping industry," said ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe. “While other security concerns now draw the attention of the international community, it is a fact that the threat which Somali piracy presents to international trade is still extremely high."
EUNAVFOR is one of many naval groups operating in the region, including NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, the U.S.-led Combined Task Force 151 and, separately, a flotilla deployed the Iranian Navy.
After stressing the need for continued military protection, Hinchliffe called on vessel operators and mariners to maintain their vigilance within the High Risk Area. "Alongside a strong military deterrent, it remains essential that ships maintain compliance with the industry’s Best Management Practices to prevent a resurgence of hijacks and kidnappings by these violent criminal gangs,” he said.
These best practices for anti-piracy hardening include:
- Careful planning in advance of entry into the High Risk Area;
- Traveling in a convoy (the Group Transit Scheme);
- Avoiding maintenance / engineering work during transit;
- Keeping deck access points controlled;
- Installing anti-RPG fencing around the bridge;
- Blocking off external ladders;
- Stringing concertina wire outboard of the rail;
- Posting additional lookouts;
- and deploying fire hoses or fire-fighting foam monitors to drive back attackers.
EUNAVFOR: Piracy threat remains serious
On October 25, Somali pirates attacked the gas tanker CPO Korea off of Yemen, the first such incident since February 2014.
EUNAVFOR said that the attack was evidence that the threat of Somali piracy – while much reduced thanks to naval patrols and industry security measures – was still very real.
"This attack shows that pirates still have the intent to attack ships for ransom and cause misery to seafarers and their families," EUNAVFOR Operation Commander Rob Magowan said.
Somali government forces still do not have a firm grip on all coastal regions, notably parts of Puntland, a hotbed of criminal activity in the peak years of Somali piracy. An ISIS-aligned militant faction is reportedly in control of the Puntland port town of Qandala, and Somali forces are moving to retake it.
The UN noted in a recent report that it believes that pirate groups are organizing once more in the less-governed areas of Puntland.
In addition to continuing instability in Somalia, a new security risk has emerged in the Gulf of Aden: anti-ship missiles, launched by Houthi rebel forces in Yemen. "Increasing tensions in the region escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to vessels," said the Office of Naval Intelligence in a recent memo.