Navy monitored 1998 maritime security incidents: IFC-IOR report

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The Indian Navy monitored 1998 incidents — including 267 cases of piracy and armed robbery — related to various maritime security challenges in 2020, the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) stated on Wednesday.

The IFC-IOR, an information sharing hub of maritime data based in Gurugram, in its annual report released on Wednesday, stated almost half of piracy and armed robbery incidents – about 49 per cent — were recorded in and around the waters of Gulf of Guinea, leading to the region being assessed as the global piracy hotspot.

“The Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) were assessed as the hotspot in Asia,” the report stated.

In total, the Centre had monitored 267 incidents of piracy and armed robbery which includes attempted incidents. This included 188 successful boarding onboard vessels and 79 failed attempts by perpetrators.

The report also stated 40 per cent of the reported incidents involved carriage of weapons by the perpetrators, with firearms being widely used in Gulf of Guinea, and knives in South East Asia.

All three incidents of hijackings recorded by the Centre were reported in the Gulf of Guinea. A major concern was the kidnapping of 140 seafarers, in 26 separate incidents, in the Gulf of Guinea.

The report stated that as per data available, 126 of these seafarers have been safely released from captivity at the time of publishing of the report. Further, the three fishermen from Fishing Vessel Siraj held hostage by Somali pirates since March 2015, returned home after being held in captivity for more than half a decade.

As the year progressed, the attacks in the Gulf of Guinea were observed to shift further away from coast. While this may indicate better near-coast surveillance by coastal states, it also alludes to better training, sustenance, and organisation among the Pirate Action Groups (PAGs). “This, in itself, is dangerous, considering the limited capabilities of several coastal states,” stated the annual report adding that 2020 was also a year without any hijacking or major incident in Gulf of Aden, the primary piracy hotspot in the first decade of the century. By and large, incidents in Asia over the last year may be categorised as petty thefts.

In addition to the threat of piracy and armed robbery, the Centre monitored the emergence of certain hybrid threats which have the potential to have a (negative) disruptive impact on the safety of seafarers.

The use of traditional means like mines and newer ones like Water Borne IEDs (WBIEDs) and Remote Controlled Water Borne IEDs (RC-WBIEDs) are broadly a fallout of regional conflicts in parts of Indian Ocean Region.

“These pose a challenge to the safety of seafarers as the Indian Ocean Region is a region of intense mercantile traffic and maritime activities,” the report stated.

Further, the Centre monitored 421 incidents of contraband smuggling. The monthly average of reported incidents was observed to be higher in the second half of the year. A total 222 of the reported incidents involved seizure of various types of drugs, as 2020 witnessed some of the largest seizures of methamphetamine and ketamine in recent years.

The Covid-19 pandemic is assessed to have had a major impact on the flow of drugs, and in some cases led to changes in the modus operandi of the traffickers. The governing factors in this regard were reduced air travel, shift in maritime transportation routes and methods, increased unemployment across multiple sectors, impact on personal consumption habits and enhanced enforcement by authorities in the region.

Major drug seizures included large shipments of cannabinoids, Amphetamine Type Substances (ATS) such as methamphetamine, and opioids such as heroin.

The Centre observed that small vessels (including fishing vessels) and shipping containers were the most preferred modes of shipment of contraband by traffickers.

In addition to drugs, seizures of banned fauna, tobacco products, natural resources and some domestic products, along with illegal fuel transfers were also observed.

The Centre monitored 379 reported incidents of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing with majority of the incidents monitored between June to November. About 65 per cent of the reported incidents were local IUU fishing, with a majority of these reported in South Asia.

The 70 per cent of the poaching incidents were recorded in South East Asia and majority of the reported incidents were monitored in the waters of Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Centre also monitored 337 attempted/ successful irregular migrant crossings during the year, which involved 19217 migrants – amounting to an average of about 1600 migrants per month.

Majority of the overall incidents were recorded across the waters of Mediterranean. Crossings off Mayotte accounted for a large share of IHM in South West Indian Ocean Region.

The Centre monitored 592 incidents that could be classified as maritime incidents. The monthly average of reported incidents was observed to be higher in the second half of the year.

More than 37 per cent of the incidents involved Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and medical evacuations (MEDEVAC) of affected seafarers. About 22 per cent of the incidents involved vessels capsizing or sinking at sea and another 20 per cent involved collisions at sea.

As an annual summary, on an average 36830 vessels were observed in Indian Ocean region per month in 2020. The Centre monitored nearly 145,000 vessels operating in the IOR during the year with many vessels undertaking multiple trips across the waters of Indian Ocean.

The average number of vessels observed in IOR per day was about 13000 – 15000 in 2020.

“On an average 5300 vessels transited through Malacca, 1800 through Gulf of Aden and 2100 through Strait of Hormuz per month in 2020,” stated the reported adding that the numbers only serve to depict the importance of free seas and the key role played by seafarers in maintaining smooth and uninterrupted flow of global trade.

(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at sumit@ians.in)

–IANS

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