Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Ships set sail in troubled waters as pirate fears fade
  • Ships set sail in troubled waters as pirate fears fade

Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

Speed read

  • Tracking data shows a return to the shipping patterns seen before attacks began

  • Ships are no longer wasting fuel by sailing well away from Somalia at high speed

  • It is unclear whether this behaviour or foreign naval support cut the threat

[NAIROBI] The impact of pirate attacks on ships in the western Indian Ocean is declining, according to a study by scientists from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
The paper, to be published in the September edition of Marine Policy, shows that vessels have progressively returned to sailing along the shortest route — closer to the Somali coast along which pirates had been based — at slower, more-efficient speeds. These changes have lowered fuel consumption and cut transport costs, it says. 
The study was based on analysis of data gathered between 2009 and 2014 from the international Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system that uses satellite positioning to track ships.
Traffc crossing the Indian 485.jpg
Indian Ocean traffic from 2009 (top left) to 2014 (bottom right). Green lines represent northbound traffic and red lines represent southbound traffic. Blue lines represent other routes. Credit: European Union, 2015
ENLARGE ICON Click to enlarge. 

The paper shows that international efforts to curb pirate attacks such as the use of foreign naval vessels to patrol in the western Indian Ocean are effective, says Dimitrios Dalaklis, a maritime security specialist at the World Maritime University in Sweden.
“More than two years have elapsed without a successful attack,” Dalaklis tells SciDev.Net. “This is a very strong indicator.”
As crews and shipping companies grow more confident that the threat from pirates is falling, shipping patterns in the region have returned to what they were before the height of pirate attacks, the study says.
This study shows how piracy not only affected those ships that reported suspicious events and attacks, but also altered shipping routes, speeds and costs for vessels whether they encountered pirates or not, says David Michel, director of the Environmental Security programme at the Stimson Center, a US security think-tank.

Although the study provides sound evidence that antipiracy measures were successful, it “does not illuminate which policy measures proved more or less effective or why”, Michel says. “As such, policymakers unfortunately cannot draw lessons from the study concerning the relative impacts of the foreign naval deployments, for example, versus the adoption of best management practices”, such as sailing at faster speeds or keeping a watch.
Emmanuel Mbaru, a fisheries researcher at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Kenya, says the use of LRIT data in this study is authoritative. He calls on policymakers to enable access to such data sets to address other geopolitical issues concerning maritime trade routes. For example, similar research could help monitor illegal fishing in developing countries such as Kenya, Mbaru says.


Michele Vespe and others The declining impact of piracy on maritime transport in the Indian Ocean: Statistical analysis of 5-year vessel tracking data (Marine Policy, September 2015)
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.