Indian Ocean high risk area to be reduced but crew must ‘remain vigilant’

Pirates held the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel FV Tian Yu 8 on November 17, 2008 as the ship passed through the Indian Ocean. Credit: Getty

A swathe of the Indian Ocean is no longer a high-risk piracy area, according to a consortium of BIMCO, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Intercargo, Intertanko and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF).

Changes to be introduced from 1 May 2019 maintain that a high-risk area remains, but the modified boundary represents “ongoing containment of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean” taking “full account of recent shipping industry experience, pirate intent and capability” according to a joint statement. The security-oriented nautical chart in the area, Q6099, is set to update with the new boundaries on 1 May.

The low costs involved in a pirate raid, accompanied by huge potential gains, as well as continuing instability in regional economies and labour markets, mean that piracy could make a return as soon as the shipping industry is deemed to be off-guard. The industry consortium reminds shipping that piracy remains a “continuing threat”, and that crews must remain vigilant for suspected sightings of pirate vessels and other suspicious activity, as well as complying fully with the guidelines in BMP5. Vessels entering the voluntary reporting area (VRA), which extends all the way eastward to 78 00’E, to report to the UKMTO and Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) for monitoring during transit.

According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau’s 2018 annual report on piracy and armed robbery against ships, attack numbers remain fairly high off Indonesia, with 36 attacks recorded in 2018. Indonesia came second in the list of seven locations that represent 69% of all attacks in 2018, with the greatest number of attacks (48) recorded in Nigeria. However, enforcement activity is proving effective, specifically the co-operation between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The IMB also noted the Indonesian Marine Police’s role in a three-year decline in incidents, pointing for example to police guidance to use particular anchorages. However, ‘hot-spots’ persist, including the Sulu and Celebes seas and the Tawitawi Island and Sibutu Passage areas between them.

The industry associations further emphasised that in view of the continuing threat of pirate attacks, shipping companies must continue to maintain full compliance with BMP5 and be vigilant in their voluntary reporting on piracy incidents, sighting of potential pirates, and any suspicious activity – as this provides crucial intelligence on risk levels in the area. The industry associations will continue to monitor developments to the security situation, and will adjust the HRA again if and when the situation warrants it.

The group further consulted with military task forces including Combined Maritime Forces, EUNAVFOR and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

Latitude 15 00’N forms the northernmost boundary of the new area, in the Southern Red Sea, then, in the Indian Ocean a line from the territorial waters off coast of east Africa at Latitude 05 00’S to 050 00’E, then to positions: Lat: 00 00’N Long: 055 00’E Lat: 10 00’N Long: 060 00’E Lat: 14 00’N Long: 060 00’E, then a bearing 310 to the territorial waters of the Arabian Peninsular.