Game Changes

There are concerns being voiced that Somali pirates now have the capability of reaching the coastal waters of other nations.

Particularly at risk are the waters around Sri Lanka, down the Malacca Straits and into Malaysia. This frightening scenario comes from International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reporting centre head of Asian region Noel Choong, who points out that the use of mother ships is a real game changer. He said Somali pirates were using the vessels which they had hijacked to go further from their base, with pirates now attacking ships in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of India and Maldives.

“If they move further, they will reach Sri Lanka and eventually the Straits of Malacca.

“Two years ago, nobody would have predicted that they would reach India. It is hard to believe they would reach the Straits of Malacca, but it is possible,” he told The Star.

Choong said many of the pirates converted the hijacked ships into motherships that could be used to launch attacks against other vessels.

He said IMB’s initial advice to ships was to keep clear of all small boats.

“But now, with (the use of) hijacked ships, unsuspecting ships may think it is a merchant ship. The advice is to monitor merchant ships which are lowering skiffs into the sea,” he said.

Choong said the motherships could cover greater distances because they were bigger, could carry more fuel, and were equipped with devices such as radar.

“Their own boats have limitations (in distance). They can carry extra drums of fuel, but they are very dependent on the weather. Can you imagine a small boat being caught in a storm in the middle of the ocean?” he said.

He added that the hijacked vessels would be operated by the kidnapped crew, as the pirates were not trained to do so.

“Of course, the crew is forced to do so,” he said.

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