Wednesday, September 10, 2008

T'is the season

That is, the piracy season off the Horn of Africa. The last week has seen seven attacks on vessels sailing in the Gulf of Aden, continuing a pattern that has developed over the course of the last few years in that region at this time of the year. The reason for this that the monsoons have ended, making the seas calmer for the small boats the pirate gangs in the area use to prey on passing vessels.

Of the seven attacks recorded by the International Maritime Board's Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, five proved unsuccessful. But 25 crew aboard a merchant vessel were robbed by pirates on 3 September. A day earlier, a yacht was hijacked; the IMB has no further information on that incident.

Even the unsuccessful attacks should still be noted with concern, as the pirates appear to have set their sights on larger commercial ships, trying to board a general cargo vessel, two bulk carriers and a couple of tankers. Two of those attacks saw the pirates open fire on their prey with weapons while trying to board the ships.

To give you some idea of how audacious pirates are in that region, one of the attacks centered on a Bahamian-flagged tanker, the Front Voyager. As reported yesterday in the Norwegian media outlet Aftenposten, the 155,100 DWT, Suezmax tanker's crew noticed a small boat approaching their vessel (after having been dispatched from a nearby mothership, according to the PRC). As it neared the Front Voyager, the pirates opened fire with machine guns, damaging the tanker. Coalition naval elements in the area were immediately contacted by the tanker's Master, and the Danish warship Absalon was able to send over a helicopter to scare off the attackers.

Front Voyager

For more on the Absalon, a command and support warship (photo below), see here and here.

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