Photo: PA Photos
Putting piracy into perspective
Fear of piracy has never been greater, but the IMB reports on piracy from 1994 to 2007 surprisingly reveal that over half of the 4,009 reported attacks in that period were foiled. John Martin reports
Armed escorts in the Gulf of Aden. Problems off the Somali coast have focussed international attention on piracy, but how much of a problem is it?
omali pirates have finally succeeded in attracting the attention of foreign navies, by hijacking about 20 vessels for ransom since July this year. First Malaysia sent warships to the Gulf of Aden, then the US and Russia. Even the EU has decided that something must be done. In short, piracy has quickly become an issue at the forefront of international consciousness. But how much of a problem is it when considered in perspective? Since 1991, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has been regularly publishing reports of piracy, obtained directly from victims. The most 24 Fairplay 18/25 December 2008
comprehensive publicly available source of information, they describe 3,896 attacks between 1994 and 2007. A further 113 attacks were added by the International Chamber of and the Death by reported piracy ShippingCentre inInformation Sharing Singapore, making a total of 4,009. is less than 1.2% of The press have covered the deaths by accident at sea most dramatic incidents throughout this time as well as broadcasting the overall numbers and trends. Piracy off Somalia has featured in almost every annual report by the IMB since 1995. Although not a surprise to anyone,
only now have international bodies decided to do more than offer advice and/or sporadic local assistance. So what changed in July 2008? The answer lies in what the IMB and others were warning about and why. Those 4,009 descriptions include a great deal more than just piracy. The IMB ignored the classical definition of piracy as something happening outside territorial waters, ie on the high seas, and published its own definition that included any criminal act on a ship – wherever it was. It did so because it claimed that most incidents occurred within territorial waters, that the “techwww.fairplay.co.uk
Figure 1: Pirate attacks 1994-2007
nicality of definition has little relevance in the eyes of the victims…” and that this information was “helping mariners navigate safely”. Those four thousand descriptions therefore include pilfering, murder and everything in between. For example, ‘narration’ number four on page 42 of the IMB 2007 report reads: “D/O on an oil tanker at anchorage raised the alarm and alerted the crew when he noticed one robber on board and another attempting to board. The robbers jumped overboard and escaped”. Not piracy, but a good example of what could happen and how the crew reacted to prevent a problem. In 1997, the IMB stated: “It is only by compiling such statistics and making shipmasters, port authorities and governments aware of the level of attacks, is there any hope of containing this serious problem.” Until July 2008, those statistics made clear that ‘piracy’ was a problem only for its immediate victims. They can be broken down to produce the table to the right.
Anchored – 7 – 40 6 – 2 676 33 6 5 – – 605 – 537 4 15 2 1,938 Berthed 1 6 – 8 2 – 4 144 4 1 2 – – 161 – 160 – 4 2 499 Underway 1 4 1 25 7 25 7 823 158 52 57 2 1 313 1 68 5 9 – 1,560 Unstated – – – – – – – – 2 5 – – – 3 – 2 – – – 12 Incident arson assault barge lost boarded bombing detained fired upon foiled hijack kidnap murder mutiny ramming robbery scuttling theft unknown wounding yacht theft TOTAL Number 2 17 1 73 15 25 13 1,643 197 64 65 2 1 1,082 1 767 9 28 4 4,009 No. effectively resisted after a crime had been committed – 4 1 2 – – 4 1,643 – – – – – 252 – 213 1 3 – 2,123
Note: There were more vessels hijacked than 197 entered in the table. Pirates murdered or kidnapped crew during the hijack of 21 vessels. These have been counted as murder or kidnap as they were the more serious crime committed. Source: John Martin from IMB figures
Crunching the numbers
Only 1,572 (1,560+12) attacks or 40% were on vessels underway and over half of those (823) were completely foiled by the crew. Attacks in port can be violent, but most of the murders, kidnaps and hijacks – the kind of incidents conjured up in the imagination by the word piracy – occur on vessels underway. Widening the definition and including unsuccessful attacks produces a number (4,009) that is five times the number of successful attacks on vessels underway (1,572-823 = 749). Accepting the wider definition, more than half of those 4,009 attacks were failures… for the pirates. Crews completely foiled 1,643 (41%) of those attacks and effectively resisted another 480 by driving the pirates off and, remarkably, even arresting some once their presence was discovered. Of the 1,886 attacks that were successful, 554 were thefts that were not resisted by the crew. For this analysis, theft is stealing without violence, whether actual, threatened or implied. Those 554 thefts could not have involved significant www.fairplay.co.uk
amounts of property. There were 830 robberies that were not resisted. Even if all the robberies were serious, and many were more akin to mugging, there could not have been more than 1,332 (1,886554) attacks, or 95 per year, that involved significant property loss or violence, suffered by the world fleet. Figure 2 shows how many of each type of crime were committed year by year. The largest category of attack is foiled every year from 1999 to 2007. The most violent attacks are suffered disproportionately by non-cargo vessels, mostly fishing boats. Cargo vessels suffered 3,684 attacks, of which 76 were murder, wounding or kidnap. Non-cargo vessels suffered 325 attacks, of which 81 were murder, wounding or kidnap. Figure 3 shows how many of each type of attack were effectively resisted by the crew, even though the pirates managed to commit a crime. Crews fail to resist assault, wounding, kidnap and murder, but these attacks are very few. Crews increasingly resist robbery, the most numerous type of attack. Crews on cargo vessels foiled or effectively resisted 2,055 attacks – nearly 56%, and higher than crews on all vessels, presumably because larger vessels with more crew are easier to defend. While underway, cargo crews foiled or
effectively resisted over 60% of attacks, an improving trend with less than 50% before 1999 rising to 65% from 2000 when the average number of reported attacks doubled. Instead of a total of 4,009 attacks, 286 per year, on any vessels anywhere from 1994 to 2007, there were 507 successful attacks on cargo vessels underway, or 36 per year. Governments would be concerned by a threat to trade, yet the trend in resistance by cargo crews is improving and from a much lower base than the total suggested by the widened definition.
The ‘base rate error’
Absolute numbers and percentage changes quoted without comparison to something relevant, such as the total number of vessels in the notorious statistiWhile not excusing hijack, world, is aknown as ‘the cal abuse base rate error’. it is easy to see why the The base rate error helps authorities lacked concern support the notion of a dramatic increase in piracy and for these victims the idea that the Somali coast or the Malacca Straits are highly dangerous for shipping. It makes for exciting press, but poor analysis. A low number increasing by a large percentage does not necessarily make it 18/25 December 2008 Fairplay 25
Britain’s rear admiral and EU operation commander Phillip Jones (left) with France’s admiral Jean-Pierre Labonne launching anti-piracy action
a large problem. Comparing the 95 significant attacks per year to the average world fleet of about 87,500 vessels of more than 100gt produces a frequency of one per 921 vessels per year. There were 93 hijacks of cargo vessels, of which 22 were recovered by police or investigators such as the IMB. The five freighters hijacked from the world fleet every year should be compared to the 600 it was already shedding through other losses or disposals. In the Malacca Straits, 295 attacks were reported over 14 years, of which 125 were successful; that’s less than nine per year, with a peak of 34 in 2000. However 60,000 ships of more than 300gt per year were transiting the Malacca Straits at the time. Pirates reportedly murdered 390 crew from 1994 to 2007. This sounds appalling, until compared to the estimate in 2000 that there were more than one million seafarers employed worldwide – meaning there were less than 28 murders
Photo: PA Photos
per million seafarers per year, far less than the murder rate in most countries. If the host of small time fishermen (who suffer disproportionately) are included, then the reported murder rate is much less, especially among cargo crews.
In his paper Mortality Rates Among Seafarers, published by the Seafarers International Research Centre, Detlef
Figure 2: Types of attack
1998 foiled hijack
theft red upon
Note: The violence category is made up of assault, wounding, kidnap and murder. Source: John Martin from IMB figures
Nilsen estimated 11,770 deaths occurred among seafarers from 1990 and 1994: thirty times greater than the number of reported pirate murders in 14 years. Death by reported piracy is less than 1.2% of death by accident at sea. In the Philippines alone, four Sulpicio Lines ferries have sunk since 1987, killing over 5,600 passengers and crew. One of the ferries was grossly overloaded and three set sail during atrocious weather. Essentially, reported piracy worldwide has caused only one-tenth of the deaths caused by the operating procedures of just one ferry company in just one country. Reported attacks within countries and ports vary enormously from year to year, indicating that piracy, by its wider definition, is massively under reported. Thieves throughout all the ports in, say, China, do not suddenly ‘go straight’ one year, only to re-offend the next. Irregular reporting (and not irregular dishonesty) is at work here. This emphasises the minor nature of most of these incidents – because attacks that result in murder, kidnap and hijack are seldom left unreported. Somalia has always been unique. Of the 260 reported attacks from 1994 to 2007, only 80 were successful – but 55 of these were hijacks. In the rest of the world, there were 163 hijacks out of 1,797 successful attacks. Off the north coast of Somalia, five vessels were hijacked, but off the southeast coast pirates hijacked 33 cargo, 14 fishing and www.fairplay.co.uk
26 Fairplay 18/25 December 2008
three other vessels. With no functioning government in the country, it is extremely difficult to see how fishing vessels could obtain licences or why they would wish to pay for them. Their owners have therefore calculated the risk of hijack and ransom against the value of any potential catch and made a considered decision. Cargo vessels hijacked off the south east coast were on average 6,661dwt and more than 28 years old, while those that foiled attack were 29,026dwt and 19.6 years old. Those old freighters chose not to sail further out to sea, either due to ignorance or calculating that the certainty of saving fuel offset the risk of attack. While not excusing hijack, it is easy to see why the authorities lacked concern for these victims. The attacks occurred up to 200 miles offshore and their perpetrators were intent on nothing less than hijack – quite simply, they were piracy by any definition, but before July, Somali pirates mostly preyed on those who could have avoided their attacks and the attacks themselves had only limited success. So what happened in July? Somali pirates shifted attention to the Gulf of Aden, where vessels can only avoid the possibility of attacks by means a massive diversion around the Cape of Africa to reach Europe. This strategic shift has massively increased their success rate in a number of ways: firstly, in terms of the number of vessels hijacked, secondly, in terms of the size of those vessels and
45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
Figure 3: Crew resistance to attack type
1998 theft red upon
2001 robbery hijack
2004 violence other
Note: The violence category is made up of assault, wounding, kidnap and murder. Source: John Martin from IMB figures
lastly, in terms of size of the ransoms that can be sought. In the first nine months of 2008, they hijacked 27 vessels, most of them freighters, 12 off the South east coast and 15 in the Gulf of Aden. Hijacked vessels in the south averaged 21,772dwt and 26 years, while in the Gulf they averaged 22,362 and 12 years. In 2002, the IMO estimated that 20,000 vessels passed through the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. World trade has increased since then, so this is a minimum number. Comparing the number of hijacks to this minimum base rate is irrelevant. With million dollar ransoms reportedly available in an economy that has collapsed to little more
than subsistence level, this minimum number represents the total potential booty available. Not even competition will constrain Somali pirates because there is more than enough for all. Even if crews heed the advice issued by the US Office of Naval Intelligence to sail faster than 14 kts (and at night), Somali pirates can improve their technique and make many more attempts per hijack. Before July 2008, the level of reported pirate attacks was a problem only for its immediate victims. Unrestrained piracy across a major trade route is a problem for everyone. That is why, at last, the authorities outside Somalia have decided to act.
MOMBASA 4 June 2007 – Somali pirates hijacked the 1,563dwt Danish-flagged and -operated cargo ship Danica White on Friday evening. The ship was overtaken by gunmen while en route from Dubai to Mombasa, where it was due to arrive on Wednesday with 1,000 tonnes of building materials. The ship’s crew is understood to consist of five Danish seafarers. Kenyan seafarers’ campaigner Andrew Mwangura said the pirates are expected to demand a very high ransom for the ship’s release because of the nationality of the crew. The attack appears to have been effected by pirates operating from a ‘mother ship’. “Small ships could not have made it so far from the coast,” said Mwangura. www.fairplay.co.uk MOMBASA 23 July 2007 – Reports reaching Mombasa indicate that Somali pirates are demanding payment of $1.5M to release the Danish cargo ship Danica White and its five crew. The vessel is anchored near three other hijacked vessels being held for ransom between Harardheere and Hobiyo, about 400km north of Mogadishu. Danish ship owner H Folmer has repeatedly declined to comment in connection with the hijack of its vessel and the health and safety of its crew. Andrew Mwangura reported in late June that the kidnapped crew had run out of food and their water supply was in jeopardy because of failure of the ship’s generator that ran its purification plant. RIYADH 24 August 2007 – Saudi Arabian commentators have warned that paying ransom to pirates is an alarming development that could make the Red Sea the next theatre for sea hijacks. An editorial headed ‘Rewarding piracy’ in the widelycirculated Saudi English language daily Arab News today commented that the release of hijacked cargo ship Danica White this week was good news for those involved, but nonetheless astounding. Somali pirates secured $1.5M to free the hijacked ship and its five Danish crewmen, Danish government sources announced yesterday. Arab News says the outcome of the incident is bound to encourage piracy and kidnapping, and Danish vessels sailing though the world’s piracy hotspots will become top targets. 18/25 December 2008 Fairplay 27