Somalia piracy review in 2015

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Offshore Oil and Gas

Such transformation of piracy can impact on the oil and gas sector as exploration and offshore drilling operations increase along the East coast of Africa.

The operational profiles of survey vessels and drill rigs are vulnerable due to the slow speed for seismic runs, limited maneuverability with seismic arrays or static with drill rigs, and the numerous support vessels required.

The Somali pirate groups will turn their attention to these operations and adapt their techniques, tactics and procedures’ to a similar model as their West Africa counterparts.

The war in Yemen is another factor that is creating concern in the maritime industry.  The complex situation on the ground has seen ports closed, approaches blockaded and weapons discharged toward and from Yemen’s shores.

Such climate of chaos can prove to be a fertile breeding ground for jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Whilst there does not appear to be an imminent threat to vessel transits adjacent to Yemen, not least due to the large naval coalition presence, one cannot ignore the unfolding situation altogether.

Increasing friction between Saudi Arabia and Iran does not help the situation either as it is likely that further tension could lead to the re-deployment of any forces currently engaged in anti-piracy operations.

The main land based threats to offshore oil and gas companies relate to political transition, civil unrest, secessionist movements and transnational terrorist networks.  Secessionist movements in Kenya such as Mombasa Republican Council and Tanzania for example, have complained that oil and gas licenses are being issued by central government for their advantage, while local communities fail to benefit from the resource exploitation.

For example, UAMSHO in Tanzania is demanding that Zanzibar and the Isles have authority over the issuance of licenses and any revenues generated.  This could lead to offshore Oil and Gas companies and their personnel being targeted as governments attempt to navigate such political dynamics relating to lucrative natural resources.

Kenya has experienced Westerners being targeted for kidnap for ransom.  Offshore Oil and Gas personnel may be viewed as potentially high value targets that could generate substantial ransom payments.

Plans to develop new refining capacity in Lamu Port, will place Offshore Oil and Gas assets in close proximity to the Somali border and Kenya the country that has seen attacks and kidnap for ransom against Western tourists.

It is therefore critical to consider the non-state actors present in countries, their motivation and capacity, as well as any previous incidents of kidnap for ransom of international staff.

There is an increasing appeal of energy infrastructure to terrorist groups.  The benefits for ideologically motivated militant groups that come with attacking the energy sector have risen considerably due to the worldwide media attention, economic turbulence and short-term supply disruptions.

With the presence of such a strategic resource emerging in off eastern Africa, terrorist groups may realize that they do not need to carry out attacks in Europe and the US to generate global attention and cause economic damage.

Militant groups operating in the region may see the value in energy company attacks. There have already been attacks on land-based energy sector projects in Sudan and Ethiopia in eastern Africa.

The security alert issued by US and UK governments during the Holy month of Ramadan in Yemen last year also identified ports and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) such as Suez Canal and Bab El-Mandab as potential targets for terrorist groups.

Al-Shabaab has publicly made threats against resource extraction companies in Somalia, and they may turn their attention to offshore Oil and Gas exploration interests.

While some eastern Africa littoral states did not recognize the implications of Somali piracy to the economy and security of the region, offshore oil and gas discoveries have triggered states to step up provisions to ensure the protection and effective exploitation of their natural resources.

There is also growing recognition that a secure maritime environment can bring increased prosperity to a country.

How eastern Africa littoral countries address these threats and enable a supportive security environment will form an intrinsic part in the development and success of offshore oil and gas in the region.

The author is a shipping sector analyst.