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Piracy: a Wake-up Call from the Strait of Hormuz

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Iro J. Theophanides

Iro J. Theophanides

On the 30th of March we witnessed a worrying range of piracy activity in the Strait of Hormuz – the most vital route that connects the Middle East Gulf and the Indian Ocean for oil and gas transportation; Iro J.Theophanides,  head of strategy and intelligence  at UNICS SECURITY SERVICES LTD., writes:

Three serious incidents occurred including gunshots fired upon one of the vessels. We must take note that the Strait of Hormuz is one of the utmost controlled and secured passages in this part of the world because of the presence of the Fifth
US fleet and Western allies along with the Iranian naval presence patrolling the Strait.

It must be remembered that none of the surrounding states would like the Strait of Hormuz to be perceived as a High Risk Area – as for their own reasons such incidents as those of the end of March jeopardise existing fragile relations.

Three of the islands in the Strait – Iran Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb — are occupied by Iran and claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

According to the NATO Shipping Center (NSC) the incidents occurred as follows:

08:05 UTC, 22 nm off the south coast of Iran a vessel was followed for 25 minutes by two skiffs carrying a ladder.

At 10:15 UTC, at 26 22.6N – 056 07.8E, in the Strait of Hormuz, two skiffs with three or four people, dressed in military clothing and armed with machine guns, approached a ship to a distance of 150 metres. The skiffs eventually retreated and headed towards the Iranian coast.

At 11:45 UTC, at 26 24N – 056 41E, in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman, an unarmed crude oil tanker was shot at twice at a distance of 5 m by a speedboat (skiff) manned by six people carrying machine guns. After the tanker activated fire hoses and sett off the alarm, the skiff turned away. The  NSC says that this event is judged to be “not piracy related”.

These three incidents can be evaluated as follows:

The incident close to the Iranian and Pakistan border, in which two skiffs where reported carrying a ladder, can be easily estimated as a piracy attempt, as has been reported by the NSC.

On the other hand, the suspicious activity in the Strait of Hormuz reported by the NATO centre as piracy activity, involving two speedboats carrying armed personnel in military clothing, can easily be surmised as coming from the speedboat fleet of the Iranian Navy.

Last but not least the incident involving gunshots aimed at the crude oil vessel’s bridge, totally jeopardised the vessel’s safety and crew.

This catalogue of incidents can be characterised as a lesson for the shipping industry, reminding us that attacks of this manner can be repeated in this vital area at any time —by anyone who wants to challenge the existence of security in the Strait of Hormuz.

Without a doubt, piracy attacks or a capture of a merchant vessel would be a direct blow at conditions for safe passage in this sensitive region. The events of 30th of March show that piracy in general is still an active threat, and the perpetrators intend to proceed in the same manner as has been seen off the Gulf and east Africa, with effective attacks and maybe in areas where assaults are least expected.


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