“We do not consider events in West Africa to feature on the yacht captain’s worry list,” says McCourt, explaining that recent media reports portray a sharp rise of incidents in the area. “Although we do recognise the brutality being experienced by unfortunate seafarers to far exceed the normal practice of those incidents in Somalia.
“We acknowledge that piracy in the Indian Ocean is at a long-awaited and most welcome stage of there being no vessels currently held. We do see reports of approaches and even a suspected attack off Oman last month, but are not convinced that these are genuine.” McCourt and the Watkins team have a number of reasons to doubt current reports of activity and these are provided below:
• There is a significant amount of fisherman in the western Indian Ocean operating both legitimately and illegitimately. Fisherman, in particular, may be armed and may approach boats in an attempt to protect their fishing equipment or to chase shoals of fish. As a consequence, such activity may be misinterpreted as pirate activity;
• During the southwest monsoon season, conditions are extremely unfavourable for Somali pirates to operate in the Gulf of Oman;
• There may be cases where some private maritime security companies falsely report near misses as suspicious approaches;
• Officials in Oman and Iran have been advising Watkins for some time that the area on either side of the Straits of Hormuz is heavily populated with drug and people traffickers operating between Iran and the UAE and Yemen. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Royal Oman Police have a joint initiative to combat this and there is much pursuit and frequent exchanges of gunfire. Lives have been lost amongst the law enforcement agencies and coastguards in patrolling this area. As a consequence, few government agencies in this area will waste time and effort pursuing the soft approach. Hence any pirates move very quickly and don’t mind cutting close to merchant ships and will shoot at anything that gets in the way;
• The western Indian Ocean area is reportedly still heavy with naval patrols and merchant ships carrying armed guards.
“Have things changed ashore in Somalia to prevent a resurgence of piracy? Hard to say,” concludes McCourt. “Have the small number of gang leaders decided collectively to sit it out until the heat is off before resuming attacks? Only time will tell. Is it yet safe for yachts to transit this area? We think not.”
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