4 September 2015
In the media | 22 Jul 2015

Southeast Asia – a pirates’ paradise

DW (Deutsche Welle)

According to the International Maritime Bureau, the waters off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore now contain the highest number of operating pirate networks in the world. This year alone, pirate attacks in Southeast Asia accounted for more than half of the world’s reported pirate attacks. In a recent interview with Germany’s international news broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Southeast Asia expert and Risk Intelligence senior analyst Karsten von Hoesslin sheds light on how Southeast Asia seemingly has become ‘a pirates’ paradise’.

To Deutsche Welle, von Hoesslin explains how it is a number of regional factors and conditions combined that has turned Southeast Asia into a hotspot for piracy. For one, the straits of Malacca, Singapore and in the South China Sea constitute some of the most trafficked and thus profitable maritime areas in the world. Further, a dense web of small and desolate islands in the region provides the perfect hideaway for pirates. And last, an underlying interstate distrust characterizing regional initiatives, coupled with weak and corrupt police units, have turned counter piracy efforts inefficient and mainly symbolic. Pirate networks have thus been allowed to proliferate and professionalize into ‘logistical masterpieces’, von Hoesslin explains: “Today, everything is pre-planned and is part of a larger criminal activity. It is very easy to counterfeit legal papers for the products such as palm oil, gas or petrol and to transport them.”

The proliferating piracy in Southeast Asia spreads insecurity for seafarers in the region and is estimated to cost millions of dollars every year. That pirate networks continue to evolve into professional crime syndicates, while regional initiatives remain no more than ‘gesture politics’ is thus highly problematic, von Hoesslin warns.

To learn more and read the full interview with von Hoesslin, click here

In the media | 08 Jul 2015

Islamic State aims to hit the Suez Canal

ShippingWatch

Recently, Egypt inaugurated a major expansion to the Suez Canal during a large national ceremony. Before the inauguration Danish maritime magazine ShippingWatch interviewed CEO and founder of Risk Intelligence, Hans Tino Hansen, about the maritime security risks facing the new canal.

Several security experts have argued the new Suez Canal to be an obvious target for terrorist groups, such as Islamic State. And in Egypt, thirteen people were recently arrested for being under suspicion of plotting bombings on the canal. Commenting on the likelihood of an attack on the new Suez Canal, Hans Tino Hansen told ShippingWatch: “IS will probably try to hit the canal. It is doubtful how much damage they can actually cause, beyond creating insecurity. And while insecurity is also what they aim for  we do not, at the moment, estimate Islamic State or any other radical groups to have the capacity to fully halt operations in the canal.”

Hans Tino Hansen further underlined that while increased attacks on ships in the new canal is a significant risk, the effects of a ship attacks are usually, among radical Islamist groups, considered to be minor compared to the effort it takes to conduct such attacks. Inland attacks are known to be much more efficient. Yet, it cannot be excluded, Hansen ads, that someone would attempt an attack just to show that they can.

To read the whole interview, click here. Note that the interview is only available in Danish. 

In the media | 19 Jun 2015

Essay: Quantifying Piracy Trends in the Gulf of Guinea — Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?

USNI News

Risk Intelligence senior analyst and West Africa expert Dirk Steffen has published an essay on the US Naval Institute’s online news and analysis portal (USNI News), where he challenges mainstream piracy analysis based on incident counts:  ‘Quantifying Piracy Trends in the Gulf of Guinea — Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?’ He examines how public and private organizations quantify and record incidents of armed robbery, piracy and other maritime security risks in the Gulf of Guinea, and how such quantifications shape differing and often contrasting perceptions of maritime security and stakeholder responses to it.

Mismatching security perceptions are common in the Gulf of Guinea. While the International Maritime Bureau recently published a report concluding a drop of 18% of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, large insurance companies and other organizations still perceive the gulf as a high-risk area and present data that shows significant increases in piracy-related incidents. To Steffen, the reason for such different security perceptions are to be found in the production of numbers and making of categories that, by being directed towards different commercial interests and stakeholders’ needs, often only presents one-sided dimensions of reality. Recording only “acts of piracy”, the International Maritime Organization for example, constitutes one organization presenting a narrow version of maritime insecurity directed for the most part against seafarers of foreign-trading ships. Using the numbers of the International Maritime Organization on the Gulf of Guinea is inadequate if one seeks a general understanding of West African maritime security patterns, writes Steffen. He emphasizes how maritime security in this region encompasses several nuanced and hard to define-challenges beyond piracy, but often closely related to it. Illegal bunkering, theft, various types of trafficking, illegal and unregulated fishing, for example all contribute to making maritime security risks hard to quantify through simple categories, but are essential for explaining piracy phenomena off the Gulf of Guinea coast.

Industry and stakeholders demand numbers and quantification upon which they can base risk assessments and this has led to an increase in maritime security and intelligence organizations offering such numbers, Steffen writes. While any increase in reporting and recording of maritime security incidents is to be welcomed, the utility of such figures is strongly reliant on the ability to recognize the different ways in which organizations quantify maritime insecurity and how and to which end they draw conclusions from it.

Steffen concludes that there remains a need to complement the quantitative data gathering on the Gulf of Guinea – and elsewhere – with qualitative assessments and a broader focus on the maritime security climate for meaningful forecasts and selection of mitigation measures. As Steffen writes, “numbers alone do not provide an understanding of a maritime security situation. The intelligence analysis behind them does.”

To read the full article, click here. 

In the media | 14 Jun 2015

Talking with the wrong Libyans

The New York Times

Together with researcher Brian Klaas, Risk Intelligence associate North Africa analyst Jason Pack has published an op-ed, wherein he urges the West to rethink ongoing United Nations-sponsored peace talks on Libya, and start engaging with those that actually have the power to make a difference in forging lasting peace in Libya.

Thursday, the deadline for a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement on Libya passes. Currently, Libya is now in civil war and since last election, the country has had two governments claiming nationwide rule. While one elected, largely anti-Islamist government has taken refuge in Tobruk, another self-appointed Islamic government controls Tripoli. So far, the West has through the United Nations-peace talks engaged most with the government in Tobruk. However, this administration has recently rejected the United Nations’ latest peace sharing proposal.

Without a peace agreement, civil war in Libya is likely to intensify, Klaas and Point state. This is bad for Libya, but also for the West: The increasing presence of ISIS in Libya, as well as continuous smuggler operations along Libya’s unpatrolled borders pose severe challenges to both regional and international security and stability.

So how does the West turn around the downward-spiraling peace talks and create meaningful negotiations that can contribute to forging lasting peace in Libya? Klaas and Pack’s key point is that the West must change the format of the current United Nations-sponsored peace talks radically. Crucial to such change is arguably to shy away from the ‘narrow anti-Islamist ideology’ currently leading the talks, and start involving the actors who actually have de facto control over Libyan territory. Such actors are neither the government in Tobruk nor the one in Tripoli solely, but militia commanders and local councils. As Klaas and Pack write, “ultimately, Europe and America will have to engage directly with the militias, especially the powerful Misratan bloc, which can actually contain jihadists and the flow of migrants. If they do not, Libya will remain paralyzed by political stalemate, drenched in the blood spilled by ISIS and haunted by the ghosts of helpless migrants drowning on Europe’s doorstep.”

To read the full version of the opinion editorial, click here 

In the media | 19 May 2015

Shipping companies use billions on security in West Africa

DR2, DR P1 and P3

Piracy-related incidents off the coast of West Africa are increasingly in focus and the high security cost of sailing through the Gulf of Guinea is posing concern to Danish shipping companies, Danish television news magazine DR2 Morgen reports. CEO and founder of Risk Intelligence, Hans Tino Hansen, visited national TV DR2 Morgen to talk about the maritime threat environment in the Gulf of Guinea and the Danish government’s new piracy strategy, which includes a refocussing of efforts from East Africa to West Africa.

When the Danish government earlier this year presented a new piracy strategy for 2015 to 2018, it included a new plan on partaking in piracy-combatting efforts in the Gulf of Guinea. Denmark already has successful experience with being part of counter-piracy efforts from its engagement in the Gulf of Aden in East Africa. However, piracy in West Africa differs significantly from piracy in East Africa, Hans Tino Hansen tells DR2 Morgen.

“In East Africa, piracy was mainly characterized by simple straightforward hijacking for ransom. Piracy off the coast of Nigeria is far more complicated,” Hans Tino Hansen explains. “West African maritime crime spans over everything from small harbor thefts over kidnap for ransom to opportunistic armed piracy to planned large-scale hijacking of product tankers.. This is a high surplus demanded in Nigeria as Nigeria have crude oil, but lack refineries to produce enough products for the market. For this reason, there is a massive demand and a large black market for refined oil.”

The hijackings of product tankers off the coast of Nigeria signifies that larger crime syndicates with connections to military and political circles are involved, Hans Tino Hansen informs DR2 Morgen.  So while Somalia posed a challenge and piracy threat by being a failed state, this was what allowed international actors to operate more or less freely when pursuing pirates. In West Africa, Nigeria and other West African states, pose a challenge to international piracy-combatting efforts by being sovereign states wanting to protect their own waters and exercise their own national jurisdiction – despite the possible lack of ability or interest to do so. In Nigeria, where the piracy-problem is the biggest, the piracy problem “is simply not a strategic problem” Hans Tino Hansen tells DR2 Morgen: “A strategic problem for Nigeria is one such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. In contrast to this group, which the Nigerian military has to deploy a lot of resources to combat, piracy is not much more than a mere irritation – rather, it is in some cases a source to funding for certain circles.”

To the question of what the different circumstances in West Africa means for the future Danish engagement here, Hans Tino Hansen says that it is pivotal to look at the effort regionally and to include willing neighboring countries: “If we can succeed in helping neighboring countries by developing and capacity-building their maritime capabilities and local authorities, then we can contain the Nigerian problem while at the same time trying to work with Nigeria”.

To see the full interview with Hans Tino Hansen in Danish, click here. To hear a similar interview with Hans Tino Hansen in Danish by the radio news magazine P1, click here. To hear Hans Tino Hansen’s comments on piracy in West Africa – also in Danish – to the Danish popular radio show P3, click here. 

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