Velda Addison, Hart Energy

No lives were lost when pirates, reportedly armed with machetes and pistols, hijacked a Malaysian oil tanker en route to the Kuantan port June 11. Yet, the incident serves as a reminder that there is still work to do toward preventing piracy.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in April that 54 incidents of armed robbery and piracy against ships were reported between January and March 2015. IMB, the U.K.-based anti-crime arm of the International Chamber of Commerce, also reported that there were 42 vessels boarded, eight hijackings and four attempted hijackings during the same time period.

More than half of the incidents happened in Southeast Asia, where there were 30 robbery and piracy incidents reported during first-quarter 2015. Africa was a distant second, with 11 reported incidents, followed by East Asia, with eight.

Fortunately, in the Malaysian case, eight of the alleged hijackers of the MT Orkim Harmony were arrested by Vietnamese authorities, who reportedly said the suspects admitted to being involved in the hijacking, according to the Indo Asian News Service. Plans are for the suspects to be extradited to Malaysia.

The vessel, with a crew of 22, was carrying about 50,000 barrels of gasoline, according to media reports.

In the past few years, steps have been taken to lower piracy attacks, especially offshore Somalia. Tactics have included heightened military presence, armed guards on vessels, better intelligence and the formation in 2009 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which coordinates political and military efforts to end piracy working with about 80 countries and international groups.

Efforts continue today. Ivory Coast officials are mulling the launch of a satellite to assist in combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, among the world’s hotspots for pirates.

“We’ve decided to conduct a technical and economic study that will tell us the relevance of such a project,” Telecommunications Minister Bruno Kone said in a Bloomberg article. The study would help the country determine whether it would be cheaper to use its own instead of leasing capacity, which is what is currently done.

Counter-piracy is also among the risks tackled by companies. Maritime Asset Security and Training Ltd. (MAST) is among them. Counter piracy, risk assessments and intelligence briefs on potential high-risk areas are among the services offered.

The company announced June 22 that it is has teamed up with WESNER, a marine sonar systems manufacturer, to deliver security technology. While the news release about the partnership didn’t specifically mention piracy, it’s not farfetched to see how such sonar technology could prove beneficial in detecting approaching threats.

Piracy might not be the biggest news story of the day for the oil and gas industry. But companies with offshore operations in areas known for piracy, especially in Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Guinea, should not become complacent and forget about this risk. Piracy threats have been around for a while and unfortunately, they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at