Strategic analysis by The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response
A recent upsurge in piracy in waters near Somalia, with 31 ships seized in 2007, has led the International Maritime Bureau to advise merchant ships against approaching closer than 200 nautical miles from the country’s coast. The acts of piracy have been criminal in nature and have garnered pirates handsome sums of ransom money for their efforts.
In a recent hijacking, which ended Saturday when the pirates’ demands were apparently met, a Spanish fishing boat carrying 26 crew members was seized on April 20, off the coast of Somalia. Spanish news media said that no official contacts between the pirates and the Spanish government took place, but that the ship’s Spanish-Basque owners had been negotiating over pirate demands for one million euros (1.55 million US dollars) at a London hotel. Earlier this month, a French luxury yacht was overrun by pirates who also demanded a ransom. After they received the money, they released the ship’s crew and passengers. However, the pirates were then captured by French commandos and brought to court in Paris.
But the recent French incident is the exception to the rule, as most pirates profit from their hijackings and escape to hijack another day.
In another recent maritime incident that appears to be terrorist in nature, and which was attributed to al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, a Japanese oil tanker was hit by fire from a mobile rocket launcher. The attackers were in a small, easily maneuverable and unidentified boat. The attack took place 270 miles off the east coast of southwest Yemen, April 21.
TAM-C analysts note that the successes of the pirates in the waters of Somalia and of the terrorists in the waters of Yemen are likely to lead to two developments further threatening local maritime travel and commerce:
a) Jihadist forces and criminal pirates will act in collusion, perhaps funding terrorist activities through piracy (just as crime and terrorism go hand-in-glove in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere).
b) Jihadist forces will take note of how easy it is to obtain dozens of hostages through pirate tactics (overwhelming or intimidating a target ship’s crew, rather than hit-and-run attacks, etc.), which they will then emulate in order to extort political concessions or to carry out mass murder of “infidels”, rather than for ransom money.
Furthermore, as it becomes harder to target air travel and targets on land because of their hardened defenses, maritime travel may become a preferred target for terrorist hijackings. In 1985, an early case of just such an attack was the Achille Lauro hijacking by PLO terrorists.
In light of our analysis that jihadist “piracy” is just around the corner, TAM-C will be monitoring adversarial training and surveillance for planned maritime operations. Clients with maritime assets may contact ITRR for further briefings and updates.