The presence of a more active US Navy and a new Somali contract for security could mean less danger for cruising sailors on their way through the Gulf of Aden this year.
US Navy Ship in pursuit
The danger of crossing the notorious ‘Pirate Zone’ between Yemen and Somalia deepened in March last year when the crews of two American Sailboats were lucky to escape with their lives. Until that attack, pirates had only stolen goods, not threatened the lives of cruising sailors as they did when they approached the two American boats, Gandalf and Mahdi.
Since then, there have been a number of pirate attacks which have involved shootings, mostly on commercial shipping, some of which has been well reported – 35 incidents in the last nine months.
This week’s attack involved pirates firing on the MV Delta Ranger, a Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier that was passing some 200 miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia.
However, there are now a couple of developments that may finally result in light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, as a direct result of this and maybe other attacks, the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill chased and boarded a traditional dhow that was suspected of carrying out pirate attacks. Sailors aboard the dhow told Navy investigators that pirates hijacked the vessel six days before near Mogadishu and thereafter used it to stage pirate attacks on merchant ships. The crew and passengers have been taken aboard the Churchill for questioning, and the ship is conferring with international authorities as to the fate of the pirates and their hostages.
The second development is somewhat nebulous at time of writing, but is a step in the right direction. The transitional Somali government has signed a $50m (£28m) two-year deal with a private US marine security company to carry out coastal patrols. However, it is not clear where this money would come from, as the government has not effectively taken office - the country is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the country. The security company has not yet started work.
The next season’s strung out fleet of cruising boats is about to start the journey from South East Asia or the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea on their way to Europe, and to do so must pass through the ‘Pirate Zone’ in the Gulf of Aden. Whether actions of the US Navy, with its contingent of ships in the area, and, less hopefully, the marine security company, are a sufficient threat to keep the waterways safe is yet to be seen.