The Mozambique Channel, located between Madagascar on the east and Mozambique on the west, forms an important shipping route from southern Africa and the South Atlantic to and from the Indian Ocean.

The channel is wide and deep and consists of island groups that are considered strategically important from the standpoint of maritime security. All of the countries in this region are fragile and have weak economies and poor maritime security.  The coast of Tanzania borders the northern part of the Channel and the Kenyan coast lies just to the north of it and much of the coast of Mozambique is on its western side.  It is a major maritime choke point, like the Gulf of Aden, and the many small islands along the Channel make ideal havens for pirates. At the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th centuries English pirates including William Kidd, Henry Every, John Bowen, and Thomas Tew used Antongil Bay and Nosy Boraha (St. Mary’s Island) an island 12 miles off the NE Madagascar as their bases. From there they attacked merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and even into the Persian Gulf.

In 2009 it appears that the Somali pirates have taken a leaf out of their 18th centuries predecessors, on the 5th November the MV Delvina (a bulk carrier, 53,629dwt) was hijacked at 09°40S 045°05E, about 380 nautical miles south east of Dar es Salaam, and 65 nautical miles due west of Aldabra Island, in the northern part of the Mozambique Channel. The Delvina was sailing from the Mediterranean to the port of Mombasa with a cargo of wheat, and had a crew of 7 Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos.  Because of this hijacking we believe that the whole of the northern part of the Mozambique Channel is now a threat area, in which any vessel may be attacked.

The attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged Delvina was not an isolated incident, about 175 nautical miles to the north east the Jo Cedar was attacked on the 10th November and on the same day the Felicitas Rickmers was attacked, another 100 nautical miles north east of the position of the Jo Cedar, fortunately both vessels avoided capture.

At the end of October, on the 22nd, there was also an attack on a bulk carrier 360 nautical miles due east of Dar es Salaam, again this was rebuffed.  Further north and due east of Mombasa there were unsuccessful attacks on the MV Harriette (2nd November 2009) and the MV Jolly Rosso (22 October 2009), and on the 22nd October, 800 nautical miles due east of Mombasa and near the Seychelles, the 38,305 dwt  bulk carrier MV Al Khaliq, en route to Mombasa, was taken.

Ship-owners have been told in the past that this area is safe, it is not. IML advises that all ship-owners undertake anti-piracy drills and precautions before entering the water of the Mozambique Channel and the coast of East Africa north of the Channel.  In many ways this area is similar to the Gulf of Aden, in that it offers many small islands and sheltered anchorages from where pirates can establish forward operating bases. The states of the area lack effective coastal defences and this area is far less exposed to aerial surveillance than the area to the North East of the Seychelles, which has seen so much activity in the last month.

IML believes that it is vital that the international community and the shipping industry develops an effective counter to this threat, because it does not only affect a major sea-lane, but also means that local shipping, up and down the East African coast may be attacked. At a time when Kenya is facing the threat of famine is it of vital importance that ships can deliver their cargoes without the fear of pirate attacks.