A newly released white paper published by a maritime firm in the U.K. says that a shift in U.S. policy will likely lead to a resurgence of piracy East of the Suez and in the Indian Ocean within the next 18 months.

Released April 7 by Dryad Maritime, a maritime intelligence company dealing with piracy, terrorism and other maritime crimes and threats, the paper says that the U.S. has shifted its foreign policy focus to the Asia-Pacific region and to Iran, and this will have significant consequences for international efforts to curb maritime piracy off Africa.

“It’s just a matter of time before western navies begin withdrawing warships that have been so successful in suppressing piracy off the Somali coast,” the report says.

Also driving this trend are new developments in U.S. energy production. With America expected to become a net exporter of energy for the first time by 2020, the U.S. will have less interest in Middle East oil or threats to its supply, Dryad says.

Although piracy hit its lowest level in six years in 2013, due largely to the presence of NATO and European Union navies, the piracy threat still persists because Somalia remains “largely a lawless and ungoverned space.”

David Hunkin, Dryad Maritime’s commercial director, predicts that withdrawal of these warships from the area would leave commercial vessels transiting Africa’s eastern coast vulnerable to hijacks.

“With no convoys and no rescue forces, the commercial shipping industry could be left to fend for itself,” the paper said. This means it could take weeks for maritime authorities to respond to a hijacked vessel, if they come at all.

The paper predicts “a return to the bad old days of piracy and, it could be argued, it may even be worse than we have seen before. Piracy has been contained rather than solved, and so if that containment is removed, piracy will return.”

Hunkin said governments and international policymakers have about 18 months to develop methods to protect international shipping in the area once warships retreat.

Many commercial shipping companies have adopted their own security measures, such as deploying armed agents to watch over the ship and crew. But Dryad advises caution in ramping up private security forces.

“The private maritime security industry has became the new gold rush for former soldiers frustrated with earnings dwindling in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dryad said. “But most lack the experience and skills required to solve this complex multi-dimensional maritime problem.”

This is a disappointing prediction for U.S. shipping, which had been encouraged by earlier reports that international policing efforts had helped deter pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa. The report serves as a reminder that piracy continues to be a significant maritime threat in that volatile part of the world.


Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.