Russian Navy increases presence in piracy hot spots to deter attacks

The frigate Admiral Gorshkov involved in a rehearsal of the Russian Navy Day parade in the Kronstadt Roadstead. Credit: Peter Kovalev/TASS via Getty Images

The Russian Navy has stepped up its anti-piracy campaigns worldwide as attacks involving Russian crew have risen.

Russian officials declared concern over the rising number of accidents involving Russian seafarers in 2019 and 2020. There have been numerous cases involving Russian crew, including an attack on 19 April 2020 in which three Russian sailors from the Portugal-flagged container ship Tommi Ritscher were captured by pirates in Benin’s territorial waters, the Russian Embassy in Nigeria said. On 20 July 2020, pirates kidnapped seven Russian sailors from the crew of Curacao Trader, 338 km off the coast of Benin, the Russian Embassy reported. Meanwhile, the Panamanian-flagged MSC Mandy came under attack by armed pirates on 2 January 2019, south of Cotonou, Benin. Six Russian seafarers, including the captain, were captured by pirates.

According to the Security Council of Russia, pirate attacks have decreased in the Gulf of Aden and increased in Singapore, the Malacca Strait, and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The Russian Navy went on patrols in these areas in 2020, the Russian Gazette, the official publication of the Russian government, reported.

The quarter two results from the International Maritime Bureau released in July 2020 showed that the GoG region, the Singapore Strait, and Indonesia made up the majority of locations for the 98 attempted and actual attacks in the first half of 2020. The GoG led the pack, making up 35 of the incidents, while the Singapore Strait reported 11 incidents of piracy compared with zero in the same period in 2019, and Indonesia increased to 15 incidents compared with 11 in 2019.

In a bid to counter the piracy threat, Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov, accompanied by the rescue tug Chiker and the medium-sized sea tanker Dubna, made a voyage to the Gulf of Aden and the Caribbean Sea. Two large anti-submarine ships Admiral Tributs and Admiral Vinogradov, together with the medium-sized sea tanker Irkut, also patrolled the areas of the South China Sea, Singapore, the Malacca Strait, and the Java Sea, the Russian Gazette reported. Dates of the journeys were not given but Admiral Gorshkov was spotted in Caribbean ports in June 2019, while the patrols in the South China Sea, Singapore, the Malacca Strait, and the Java Sea are said to have occurred in 2020.

These attacks have also prompted the Russian Navy to increase the average duration of long voyages as well as the intensity of the combat service of ships and submarines – carriers of high-precision long-range weapons, said Mikhail Popov, deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia.

“After a long pause, the [Russian] naval aviation resumed intensive flights to the distant sea and ocean zones,” he said, adding that the eventual task was better to protect Russian civil shipping on the important trade routes. It is believed that such naval aviation flights have not taken place since 2013.

Nord Stream 2 might be jeopardised

The Russian Navy is also increasing its activity to ensure the safety of Russian vessels participating in the construction of the Nord Stream 2, Popov said.

The Nord Stream 2 project seeks to construct two pipeline strings with a total capacity of 55 billion m3 of gas per year from the coast of Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. The Baltic states and Poland have long opposed the project, claiming it could threaten European energy security and would increase the European dependence on Russian gas.

In May 2020, the Russian Navy ensured the safe passage of the pipe-laying vessel Akademik Cherskiy and the supply vessels Ostap Sheremet and Ivan Osipenko from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad.

“This measure is needed because of a threat of some particular countries’ provocative actions,” Popov said.

Work at the Nord Stream 2 offshore site halted in late 2019 due to US sanctions with pipeline operator Nord Stream 2 AG, and the operator has not announced a new construction plan.