Seafarers can breathe easy. Dreaded pirate attacks on the Gulf of Aden, the Somalian coast and Omani coast have been checked and ships can now sail smoothly through the Indian Ocean.

From January 1, 2023, the High Risk Area (HRA) warning on the Ocean has been removed.

The safe transit of trading vessels through one of the world’s busiest ship lanes is good news and critical for India. Nearly 13 per cent of India’s trade is dependent on the Gulf of Aden route, and thousands of Indian seafarers work on the hundreds of foreign ships transiting the Indian Ocean every day.

The HRA was created in the Indian Ocean at the height of the Somali piracy threat in 2010.

No more guards

The International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy attacks globally, said the total number of attacks in the Indian Ocean region attributed to Somali pirates peaked in 2011, when 237 incidents were recorded. This soared to 557 between 2010 and 2014 but declined sharply to 14 between 2015 and 2020.

Industry associations — the Baltic & International Maritime Council (Bimco), the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo), the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) — jointly announced the removal of Indian Ocean HRA from January 1, 2023, due to a significant improvement in the piracy situation. The removal of HRA means seafarers don’t need armed guards. There will now be less stress on board although companies will remain vigilant, said Sanjay Prashar, former National Shipping Board member.

The drop in piracy attacks in the Indian Ocean has been mainly attributed to the joint combat efforts by various countries, including India.

The Ministry of Shipping estimates that Indian imports through the Gulf of Aden route was valued at around $50 billion and exports at $60 billion. Although this accounts for only 13 per cent of India’s trade, the crew of several foreign vessels is Indian. India’s large seafaring community (approximately 100,000 in number) accounts for 6-7 per cent of the world’s seafarers.

The Indian Navy commenced anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden from October 2008.