Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An update on current conditions off East Africa

I recently asked my colleague Andrew Mwangura for his thoughts on what the current piracy situation looks like off East Africa. Here's what he told me:

"Although weather conditions continue to worsen in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia, they are still very favorable for piracy in the western and central Gulf of Aden. Based on weather factors alone, there is a high probability of occurrence for pirate and small boat activity in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea but a relatively slim probability off the east coast of Somalia.

"This is due to the deteriorating weather conditions off the east coast in relation to the current summer monsoon season. Pirates have achieved significant success in recent months and have shown their capability to operate for sustained periods in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and at a considerable distance of 900 Nautical Miles off the coast of Somalia.

"Not all attacks were successful, and considerable caution is always required since the areas around failed hijackings remain at high risk for at least 48 hours after the incident.

"Somali pirates currently are holding fewer ocean-going vessels for ransom than they have shown recent capacity to hold. There is a decreased risk for pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean, but the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea remains a prime operating area for Somali pirates."

Note Mwangura's warning about the risk of additional attacks in the days after an incident. It will be interesting to see - from a purely observational perspective - what happens in the next two to three weeks. If the patterns of pirate activity replicate previous years, we can see a decrease over the summer months. This would allow naval forces to pull out and prepare for the fall season. But...if pirate gangs reduce their operations in order to create the impression of a major decrease in activity, and then resume attacks in July, everything changes.

The key issue in the near future will be whether the pirates have figured out how to overcome the weather obstacles, and whether the global economy rebounds enough that shipping traffic picks up.

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