UNOSAT Global Report on Maritime Piracy – a Geospatial Analysis

As part of its UNOSAT programme, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research recently launched a global report on the geospatial analysis of piracy activities. UNOSAT uses satellite derived geoinformation in critical areas such as humanitarian relief, human security, strategic territorial and development planning.

The global report, building primarily on data maintained by the International Maritime Organization, explores how trends in geospatial patterns and severity of reported piracy incidents are developing from 1995 to 2013.

Maritime Circulation and Piracy 2006-2013

Courtesy UNOSAT Global Report on Maritime Piracy

Not surprisingly, two areas were observed because of the significant trends in piracy activities: the Western Indian Ocean, including the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea. In the Indian Ocean, including the Malacca Strait, and in South America, no major trends were observed. Piracy in the Malacca Strait, however, continues to be a major disruptor for safe routes in the eastern Indian Ocean.

As for the Western Indian Ocean, the following observations are made:

  • There has been a significant reduction in the number of pirate attacks during 2013 – to the extent one can claim they have almost stopped (28 incidents in 2013, of which only 8 since 15th August). Not a single vessel was hijacked;

  • The median distance from where an attack is reported to the nearest coast has dropped from close to 400 km in 2010 to under 50 km in 2013, thus indicating a considerable reduction in the radius of successful pirate activities;

  • Incidents involving the use of rocket propelled grenades, relatively heavy armour for pirates, has decreased from 43 in 2011 to 3 in 2013;

  • Ransom amounts paid to pirates have decreased from US$150M in 2011 to about US$60M in 2012;

  • In addition to the well-known feature of piracy “mother ships” from which fast-going skiffs can radiate, a new trend of floating armoury vessels supplying anti-piracy entities with weapons out in international waters is observed.

The Gulf of Guinea differs from the western Indian Ocean, although the overall number of attacks carried out is of a smaller scale:

  • The number of attacks show no sign of decreasing;

  • Attacks in the high seas have increased, while attacks in ports are on the decrease;

  • The types of attacks have gone from low-intensity towards more violent acts;

  • The Financial losses to the national economies for countries with ports in the Gulf of Guinea are considerable. This has forced certain countries to take military action that has proven successful.

The findings confirm the already well-known trends in modern day piracy in these areas.

Several organisations collect and analyse data relevant to piracy. While there have been major improvements in information-sharing, this is yet another area in the fight against piracy which suffered from fragmentation of approaches and consequently from dispersion of resources. The report thus provide for a number of recommendations for standardisation and possible better coordination.

Notably, the report advocates for the creation of a “severity index” to better differentiate the gravity in the use of violence during reported incidents in future data collection and analysis. The report indeed remarks how for close to half of reported piracy incidents no threat of violence has been reported. A similar index is used by the ReCAAP in monitoring piracy incidents in South East Asia.

The report also highlights how the distance from the coasts from which the pirate carry out their attacks is correlated to the pirates’ technical and operational capabilities and could thus function as an early predictor of an escalation in the attacks.

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One Response to UNOSAT Global Report on Maritime Piracy – a Geospatial Analysis

  1. slightly off the thrust of your article but…
    During the period of 2013 – 2014 I completed an LLM looking at different aspects of international law surrounding Somalia.
    The Lang report, S/2011/30 identified at least 300 pirates missing. I am not suggesting that all have been killed extra-judicially, however M
    Bockmann and A Katz “Shooting to Kill Pirates Risks Blackwater Moment.” (2012), highlights the possible killing of a pirate from the deck of the Avocet.
    As part of the discussion in one of the chapters I focussed on the part played by Private Armed Security on board commercial maritime vessels off the coast of Somalia.
    During my research I spoke to a member of one of the security companies working in the area.
    He described to me what he termed as an ‘atrocity’ at sea where suspected Somali pirates were being killed long before they became a threat to any vessel.
    To my knowledge there is no follow up on these incidents by either the shipping companies or the security companies or any of the flag states of the vessels.
    To my mind these are little more than extra-judicial killings happening at sea.
    I am making enquiries to see if anyone knows or has information about any group or groups investigating these incidents.
    Any information you have would be most helpful.
    Thanking you in advance.
    Dennis Mardle
    LLB/BA (Ed), LLM
    Enrolled Barrister and Solicitor
    High Court of NZ

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