Drop in Somali Piracy But Rise in Gulf of Guinea

The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre released a brief at the end of October providing worldwide piracy statistics for the year. The report showed substantive decreases in Somali piracy as international efforts–including those from India among other nations–helped curb maritime attacks.

The report comes on top of a recent talk with US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Andrew Shapiro. His remarks at the Atlantic Council suggest that India may be at greater risk due to the Pirates’ increased use of motherships, something the press has been reporting for some time.

An excerpt from the IMB report:

The drop in Somali piracy has brought global figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea down to 233 incidents this year – the lowest third quarter total since 2008. In the first nine months of 2012, there were 70 Somali attacks compared with 199 for the corresponding period in 2011. And from July to September, just one ship reported an attempted attack by Somali pirates, compared with 36 incidents in the same three months last year… [However] [p]iracy in the Gulf of Guinea is becoming increasingly dangerous (34 incidents from January to September 2012, up from 30 last year) and has pushed westward from Benin to neighbouring Togo. Togo reported more attacks this year than in the previous five years combined, with three vessels hijacked, two boarded and six reporting attempted attacks.

IMB reporting and Shapiro’s comments, inter alia, indicate that efforts to combat piracy around the Gulf of Aden have worked well forcing some pirates to relocate their business further afield. However, with increasing media reports connecting Al-Shabaab with Somali pirates, I suspect the reason may go beyond acts at sea. The latest satellite imagery released by GeoEye may shed some light on the subject.

Imagery of Djibouti’s Reaper operations apron taken on 26AUG12 (via GeoEye)

As we can see from the imagery above, Djibouti’s drone apron has grown in size over the past year, now thought to accommodate at least two combat air patrol or eight of the RQ/MQ-9 Reapers (up from four last year). Imagery shows at least four of the drones protruding from their aircraft shelters with each clam-shell shelter thought to house at least 2 Reapers and their associated equipment.

Imagery of Djibouti’s signals apron taken on 26AUG12 (via GeoEye)

Perhaps in support of the new combat air patrol (here or elsewhere), Djibouti’s signals apron also shows some additions with a new Ku-band array added since the last imagery update bringing the total arrays to six. The two on the top right are believed to be directly related with drone deployments in the region.

Imagery of Djibouti’s auxiliary operations apron on 26AUG12 (via GeoEye)

Beyond drone activity, GeoEye’s imagery showed the arrival of more F-15Es. While F-15s and Harriers have been rotating in and out of Djibouti for years, it wasn’t until 2010 we saw them for extended periods of time on the auxiliary operations apron pictured above.

Imagery showing the US’ main operations apron on 26AUG12 (via GeoEye)

Then there’s the US’ main operations apron hosting US special forces equipment showing little to no change since the last imagery update.

Imagery of Djibouti’s northwest section showing what is thought to be Japan’s section of the airfield (via GeoEye)

Lastly in Djibouti, a new section of the airfield has recently been added between 2010 and 2011. This section, usually showing P-3s parked on the apron, probably belongs to Japan. Media reports in 2010 indicate Japan would be building a USD 40 million base in Djibouti–it’s first foreign base since World War II–saying it would be operational during the reporting period above.

Imagery on 07MAR12 shows Mogadishu’s International Airport and increased deployments of US supported AMISOM forces (via GeoEye)

As a side note, imagery outside of Djibouti at Somalia’s International Airport in Mogadishu has also shown a substantive increase in AMISOM deployments. In 2011, AMISOM forces comprised mainly of Ugandan and Burundi troops, took back the city. The UN forces along with assistance from Kenya and a reluctant Ethiopia attacked across several fronts to clear and hold key areas vital to Al-Shabaab and Somali pirates alike. This increasing deprivation of operating space may have also played a role in forcing pirates further out to sea over the years.

Beyond imagery, Russia has also expressed interest in deploying two of its IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft in Djibouti in order to assist further in the anti-piracy efforts. (According to RIAN, “Russian warships have successfully escorted more than 130 commercial vessels from various countries off the Somali coast since 2008”).

With further attacks deterred at sea and with expanded capacity to strike Al-Shabaab, (as well as related targets), Somali pirates are finding it increasingly difficult to carry out their operations close to home.

So what’s India been doing to prepare?

Imagery from 04NOV10 of the future site of INS Dweeprakshak on Kavaratti, Lakshadwep (via Digital Globe)

According to press briefs, the Indian Navy in April 2012 commissioned Indian Naval Station Dweeprakshak on Kavaratti to help provide coastal security to ships traversing near the island chain and India’s Exclusive Economic Zone. (Indian news sources reported the base as the Navy’s second in India’s island territories after the one established in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In addition, India frequently dispatches its Dornier 228 aircraft to Male in the Maldives to aid in coastal surveillance and direct anti-piracy efforts)

INS Cheriyam (Car Nicobar Class)

The announcement of the base came after Indian coastal patrol vessels of the Car Nicobar Class (WJFAC) destroyed a Somali mothership and captured her crew in January 2011. Subsequent interventions by Indian forces have been reported in the press with the captured pirates in most cases being sent to Mumbai for trial.

Since joining anti-piracy efforts, India has commissioned ten Car Nicobar Class patrol vessels to help fill the gaps in coastal defense. The first four were commissioned in 2009 and the following were subsequently fast-tracked due to the Mumbai attacks.

According to Indian government sources, since October 2008 the Indian Navy has been responsible for protecting a total of 1104 ships including 139 Indian flagged and 965 foreign flagged vessels from 50 different countries.

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