Most of us will have read and heard about the on-going piracy problem in the North of the Indian Ocean. We have all read-about the motivation of the pirates, their ruthlessness, their modus-operandi and the fact that piracy protection on vessels has turned into huge business. Perhaps like me, you also wonder how absurd it is to be talking about the issue of “piracy” in this modern day and age. What we perhaps don’t realise is that piracy originating in far-away Somalia has some very direct consequences for Trade Ocean.

Most of the Eastern tuna boat fleet (Taiwanese and Japanese) has moved away from the Indian Ocean and have relocated to the Atlantic Ocean because the security concerns are so great. In fact, we know of one Taiwanese owner whose vessel was captured by pirates in December 2010 and is still in use by the pirates as their “mothership”. The crew is still being held hostage by the pirates as the owner simply cannot raise the money demanded by the pirates to effect release of the crew. We hear the ransom demand is in the region of $5 million (R35 million)!

The direct consequences to Trade Ocean of vessels avoiding the Indian Ocean region is that it has reduced the port calls of these specific types of vessel to Durban. (Less calls = less revenue.) One would think that this would be off-set by additional port calls to Cape Town, but this is not necessarily the case as there are alternative ports to use in the Atlantic Ocean such as Las Palmas. The problem is not only confined to the tuna longline type vessels. It also affects the Japanese reefer carrier vessels which meet the tuna vessels at high seas for (legal) transhipment of fish can no longer do so for fear of the pirates.

Put it in perspective, the market value of the cargo on board a fully laden reefer vessel carrying Sashimi grade tune would be in the region of around R100-150 million, depending on what species is carried. And that’s just the value of the cargo, never mind the vessel. A juicy target indeed. Hence most of the reefer vessels have relocated to the Atlantic Ocean, some to the Pacific. The ocean area affected by piracy is ever increasing. More importantly, the pirates seem to be getting more brazen and are moving their areas of “influence” more and more southward, even as far as the Northern Mozambique channel and Madagascar. So don’t be surprised if pretty soon you might just see a bunch of Somali-looking gentlemen popping up over the horizon at Balito Beach! The next time you are watching Captain Jack Sparrow in action you might think twice about the notion that pirates are “cool” and piracy is a noble and romantic pursuits. They are not. Modern-day piracy is a scourge which in one way or another affects all of us negatively.