LONDON (Reuters) - A new generation of well-organised Somali pirates is targeting ships and aims to use ransoms from hijackings for further criminal activities, a senior ship industry official said on Tuesday.
Seaborne gangs have already increased their attacks in recent months, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
Better weather is expected to lead to further attacks.
Jan Kopernicki, president of the UK Chamber of Shipping industry association and also vice president of Shell Shipping, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell, told Reuters an “industrialisation of piracy” was taking place.
“It certainly seems from the shipping industry point of view that it’s a more structured and organised approach that is developing and that is worrying because it’s much more in the area of solid criminality,” he said in an interview.
Kopernicki, who was appointed UK Chamber of Shipping president last month, said there had been a “substitution” of groups involved.
“The first generation pirates have been succeeded by a second generation which are different and from different groups and from what I understand connected differently,” he said.
“I absolutely don’t want to suggest this is linked to terrorism from what I am aware of.”
The previous generation of pirates had divided up ransoms to fund their villages in Somalia, Kopernicki said, adding there was better-organised use now of mother ships and small speed boats known as skiffs.
“We are now seeing structured organisation with material apparently being brought down a supply line to supply these boats and skiffs,” said Kopernicki, who leads Shell’s shipping business.
“The impression we have is that the money flows are leaving Somalia and going into criminal elements.”
Foreign navies have been deployed off the Gulf of Aden since 2009 and have operated convoys, as well as setting up a transit corridor across dangerous waters. But their forces have been stretched over the vast waterways, leaving ships vulnerable.
While West African pirates have not attracted the same amount of international attention as their Somali counterparts, maritime analysts say they pose an increasing risk in a region with weak surveillance and a growing number of oil finds.
Cameroon’s state oil company said last week crude oil production fell by 13 percent last year in part because piracy off the coast cut investment.
“The situation in West Africa is beginning to have the elements that would give concern of a copy cat developing more generically in that area,” Kopernicki said.
Shell declined to comment on how many vessels the group had operating off East and West Africa citing “security reasons”.
Kopernicki said consultation on “an urgent basis” was needed between governments, the military and industry to review plans for protecting merchant traffic off West Africa to ensure the situation did not escalate. “We are early enough in the piece to be able to do something constructive.”