(Reuters) - Somali pirates are causing havoc in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, which connects Europe to Asia and the Middle East via the Suez Canal.
Piracy off the Horn of Africa has been a problem for years, but daily attacks are now forcing shippers to seek alternative routes. Here are some facts about how the wave of attacks is threatening international seaborne trade.
— Major operators of the world’s merchant fleet — carrying some 90 percent of the world’s traded goods by volume — are seriously considering by-passing the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal altogether.
— Industry experts say the alternative trade route, round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, would add some three weeks or more to a typical journey, pushing up costs for goods.
— Two well-known shipping firms, one that specializes in gas and the other the world’s largest tug operator Svitzer, are already routing their vessels via the Cape of Good Hope.
— Millions of tons of crude oil, petroleum products, gas and dry commodities like grains, iron ore and coal, as well as containerized goods from Hi-Fis to toys are ferried through the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal every month.
— The Gulf of Aden is located in the Middle East with Yemen to the north, Somalia to the south and the Arabian Sea to the east. It is connected to the Red Sea by the Bab el Mandab strait. Somalia has been stuck in civil conflict for 17 years.
— Exports from the Gulf and Asia to the West must pass through Bab el-Mandab before entering the Suez Canal. Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal.
— The Bab el-Mandab passage handles around 3.3 million barrels per day of oil en route to the Canal and the Sumed Pipeline discharging in the Mediterranean for onward shipment to markets in Europe and the United States.
— Seven percent of world oil consumption passed through the Gulf of Aden in 2007, according to Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit.
— Around 30 percent of Europe’s oil goes through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
— Some 17 tankers transit the Gulf of Aden every day carrying about 6 million barrels per day of crude and petroleum products.
— The total volume of crude and petroleum products voyaging westbound through the Gulf of Aden represents 18 percent of the United States and Europe’s combined oil import volume.
— Liquefied natural gas exports from Qatar and Algeria pass through the Gulf of Aden en route to consumers in the West and in Asia. The largest class of gas carrier transiting the area carries enough gas to heat 4.5 million British homes.
— The Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal are the main trade routes for dry commodities and containerized cargo — manufactured goods — between Asia, Europe and the Americas.
— The Suez Canal is the third major source of income for Egypt.
— Intelligence sources say three suspicious trawlers are now in the Gulf of Aden and are believed to be pirate mother vessels looking to attack and hijack ships.
— The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said a total of 199 incidents of piracy or attempted piracy were reported worldwide during January-September, of which 63 were in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast.
— Recent attacks have brought the anti-terrorist Combined Task Force 150 into action. The multinational unit, part of Washington’s Operation Enduring Freedom, is based in Djibouti and has come to the aid of many ships attacked by pirates.
— In late August, it announced a string of waypoints marking a Maritime Security Patrol Area or safe corridor, which warships will patrol while coalition aircraft fly overhead.
— While there is no formal agreement between the coalition and other navies, they have been communicating with each other and sharing information to more effectively patrol the area.
— The British navy killed two pirates this week after the attempted hijacking of a Danish vessel. Britain’s HMS Cumberland was joined in action by a Russian frigate. French ships have also engaged pirates in recent months, killing some, capturing others and freeing hostages.
Sources: Reuters/EIA www.eia.gov/BIMCO, Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit, GlobalSecurity/Ministry of Defense/International Maritime Bureau.
Writing and reporting by David Cutler and Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Matthew Tostevin