Could Yemen become the next base for pirates?

Could Yemen become the next base for pirates?
4 min read
16 February, 2015
Feature: Following an almost complete disruption of piracy activities from Somalia, the instability in Yemen is sparking fears that the country could become a new home for the sea-faring bandits.
An international taskforce has all but eradicated piracy from the region [Getty]

Although the waters of the Gulf of Aden have been quieter than usual in recent months, unrest on land in Yemen is getting worse. 

Between Houthi rebels, the army, and a myriad armed groups, the country is descending into chaos, raising the prospect that Yemen's shores might offer new refuge for pirates.

Somali threat

     Every ship that passes through the Gulf of Aden is accompanied by a protection force.

Over the water, the "failed state" of Somalia had become a hotbed of piracy for several years. Crews of armed men set up bases on the Horn of Africa, and launched hundreds of raids on merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden and further afield.

According to the European Union's naval force, a massive international naval mission has helped to significantly stem piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean, bringing the number of attacks down from 176 in 2011 to just two last year.

But experts fear that instability in Yemen, and the breakdown of a centralised power in Sanaa, could mean that the Arabian Peninsula will become the next target for high seas brigands looking to reap rich rewards from shipping in Gulf of Aden.

Nearly 16,000 commercial ships pass through the Bab al-Mandeb every year, a strait that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. Along this route passes nearly 30 percent of the world's crude oil.

Last week, concerns were raised when a Kuwaiti oil tanker was targeted by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

The tanker was on its way to Djibouti carrying over 40,000 tons of aviation fuel when four pirate ships launched an attack. Fortunately for the crew, a security team on board managed to repel the pirates.

If this is the beginning of more widespread activities by the pirates, then it could have massive economic implications for shipping companies, who would be looking at higher insurance premiums.

According to analysts, it might force shipping to the south of the Africian continent. The Cape of Good Hope offers a safer shipping route, but a substantial trek. It would also spell disaster for Egypt's Suez Canal operators, who currently connect the Gulf region and Asia to Europe and North America.

Bilal Ahmed, a business development expert for Yemeni-based CAC Insurance Company, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the return of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the nearby strait, Bab al-Mandeb, would also have massive financial implications for logistics companies in the country.

"There will be a higher risk for cargo, which means higher prices for the insurance of both the ships and the cargo. This would lead to a higher costs for both the traders and the consumers, as well as the decline in operations in the region's shipping lanes," said Ahmed.

"We also take into consideration the reinsurance market abroad, which strictly cover cargo being shipped through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden."

Piracy threat

Piracy is estimated to cost the global economy nearly $18 billion every year, as shipping companies are forced to change routes and pay higher costs in fuel, insurance or wages for security personnel.

However, Ahmed al-Hosni, General Manager of the al-Halal Shipping Company believes that it is unlikely that there will be a return to level of piracy there was before the international task force was assigned with policing the waters.

"The return of piracy is unlikely, and there are no fears about it. The situation is different now, every ship that passes through the Gulf of Aden is accompanied by a protection force, as we saw with the Kuwaiti oil tanker that stopped the attack," said Hosni.

On Monday, South Korea sent a new batch of forces to the Gulf of Aden. Last week, the Turkish parliament also agreed to extend its mission close to the southern Yemen city of Aden for another year. 

They are joined in the international alliance by the navies of the US, European Union and Iran, none of which are unlikely to leave the area until the threat posed from pirates is completely eliminated.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.