On May 17, 2020 a tanker vessel was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and fire was exchanged on both sides. The ship had been approached by two skiffs, and after the armed guards fired warning shots the skiffs returned the fire. The armed guards were able to damage one of the skiffs, at which point the attack ceased. Though no crew were injured, this violent event has challenged industry assumptions in the past five years about the peacefulness of the Gulf of Aden and the waters around East Africa. Is piracy in this region on the rise again?
This paper will describe the changes that have already taken place in the shipping industry for vessels traveling through and docking in East African waters and the Gulf of Aden, during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide some foresight into future impacts and changes companies can take in order to improve the security and wellbeing of their crew and vessels. This assessment focuses on changes in the security situation since the pandemic, and does not address all of the background risks identified in the region prior to the pandemic. For a full review of general security risks in the region reference BMP5.
There are two notable changes; firstly, COVID-19 has created more opportunities for piracy through impacts to regular vessel inspections and the wellbeing of seafarers, and created potential pull factors for individuals to turn to piracy as a means of survival. Secondly, ports and shore leave have also become riskier due to the possibility of infection with the virus and potentiality of higher crime rates. We strongly recommend that companies reassess their security policies and implement new safeguards, as pre-COVID-19 standards of operation are unlikely to be sufficient during this time.
Each topic discussed in this paper is situated in terms of the threat triangle of opportunity, intent, and capability. An analysis will follow on the risks of sailing near and docking in each country in the region: Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Yemen. These country analyses address any changes in the risk for piracy in terms of intent for piracy activities, as well as risk for onshore crime and infection with COVID-19. Additionally, the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers and crew should be taken into account to increase the safety of voyages, decrease the opportunity for piracy, and to generally safeguard crew wellbeing. Following, a discussion of vessel and crew inspections will shed light onto the main opportunities opening up to pirates and other safety risks….