Sea Transportation: Pirates Go Where The Money Is


September 14, 2011: Somali pirates have turned their attention to the vast number of ships that bring goods to the Persian Gulf oil states. Over 500,000 tons a day is landed in Persian Gulf ports, and more of those ships are being attacked by pirates. As a result, maritime insurance companies have declared the east coast of Arabia as a danger zone and imposed piracy surcharges. This means that everyone buying imported goods will end up paying up to half a percent or so. It could be worse. Two years ago, insurance costs, to cover piracy risk, were increasing the cost of each barrel of oil imported into Kenya by one percent or more. Additional time at sea, to steer clear of pirate infested waters, added up to another dollar per barrel.

Pirates are now operating up to 1,600 kilometers off the northeast coast of Africa, and close to the Straits of Hormuz (where ships exit the Persian Gulf and enter the Indian Ocean). Ship captains on oil tankers are drilling their crews on ways to avoid approaching pirates, and keep them off the ship (usually with fire hoses.) But tankers are more defenseless than most merchant ships, because of their flammable cargo. The pirates often disregard this and fire on the tankers. Gun fire is bad enough, but the pirates sometimes fire RPG rockets at ships. One of these armor piercing projectiles could puncture the hull and set the tanker on fire.

Some 40 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass through the Straits of Hormuz, which comes to about fifteen tankers a day. Oil producing nations, including Iran, have sent warships to join the international anti-piracy patrol, but the growing threat to tanker and freighter traffic in the Indian Ocean is causing alarm, and more ambitious plans to guard the straits, as well as the oil routes down the east coast of Africa (and thence west to the Atlantic), are in the works. This is especially true as pirate raids occur closer to the Straits of Hormuz (the entrance to the Persian Gulf).

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