On 17 August 2021, the global shipping and oil industries announced an agreement to reduce the boundaries of the piracy High Risk Area (HRA) in the Indian Ocean as incidents in the region have been decreasing in the last five years. The changes came into effect on the 1st of September 2021 and reduced the HRA boundaries to the Yemeni and Somali Territorial Seas and Exclusive Economic Zones in its eastern and southern reaches. It is foreseen that final steps of the process (which includes a comprehensive assessment of the maritime security threats to allow shipowners and operators to fully gauge the risk of voyages worldwide) will be completed by the 31st of January 2021. READ MORE This agreement followed an assessment from the Western Indian Ocean Region based on the results of evaluations made by SHADE and EUNAVFOR Operation ATALANTA.
The HRA was created at the height of the Somali piracy threat in 2010 to show shipowners, operators, and seafarers where pirates operated and where extra vigilance was required to avoid attacks. That year, the International Maritime Bureau reported that Somali pirates hijacked 160 ships and took over 400 hostages.
Subsequent updates to the HRA reflected the changing nature of threats in the region, including the reduction of piracy attacks against merchant vessels. In the assessments, it was highlighted how pirate action groups and their kingpins have diverted operations to other crimes such as smuggling, exploiting the insecurity created by the Yemeni civil war and how Kenyan military and law enforcement in and around Southern Somalia limit the opportunity and capability of pirates to operate in the southern reaches of the existing HRA, with the principal pirate bases are situated further north in Galmudug and Puntland.
The designation of a high-risk area based solely on the threat from Somali piracy was outdated, and a more dynamic mechanism is required to account for the changed threat environment in the region. The reduction of the HRA will have several positive outcomes for different countries in the region, namely Kenya, whose waters have been in the HRA for 12 years. This shift will save country millions of shillings in insurance and other security expenses, and could open up Kenya’s ports for more business. The re-designation will also benefit other regional port user countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan who depend on the port of Mombasa for both their exports and imports.
Still, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre warns that Somali pirates continue have the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean. In January 2021, the Centre reported a bulk carrier was chased by a skiff with armed pirates and ladders in the western Gulf of Aden, but the attackers aborted after warning shots from the ship’s security team.
In line with this, while the shipping industries believe the threat zone has been reduced, they cautioned that vessels and their operators should be continuing to undertake pre-transit risk assessments that take into account the latest information from both the Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) and HRA. A broader area was designated as the VRA and ships entering the area are still encouraged to report to the UKMTO to be monitored during transit and register with the Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa (MSCHOA). EU NAVFOR ATALANTA will also continue to show its commitment to the safety and security of seafarers, having readjusted its mandate to include monitoring of fishing activities off the coast of Somalia, weapons and drug trafficking, illicit charcoal trade and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Taking into account the transnational character of maritime crimes, the Council of the European Union decided that ATALANTA shall also contribute to the enforcement of the weapons embargo on Somalia in accordance with UNSCR 2182 (2014) and counter the trafficking of narcotic drugs off the coast of Somalia.