Criminals have recently found a new arena for extortion – the Israeli coast.
Israeli companies searching for oil and natural gas
in the Mediterranean Sea have recently encountered a disturbing new phenomenon – fishing boats disrupting their sea expeditions whose owners demand payment in exchange for allowing them to operate.
Energy market officials claim that these "fishermen" can be found in areas where the companies' ships conduct searches. By blocking the vessels' sailing route or creating loud noise they disrupt their work and then demand money to clear from the area.
Many Israeli business owners are closely familiar with the extortionists' MO. Usually the business owners avoid taking the matter to the police, and pay up.
Recent years have seen many companies drilling off the Israeli coast in search for oil and natural gas, especially since the discovery of the Tamar
gas field. The operation of an oil rig can cost hundreds of dollars per day.
Companies perform seismic surveys to trace the best location for drilling. Special ships are sent to scan a certain area using an advanced sonar system which creates a 3D image of the ground below. The image is based on sound waves coming from the ground.
These ships are the ones being targeted by the extortionists. Using their fishing boats' engines they create a loud noise which disrupts the sonar system's ability to create images.
Additionally, the survey ships are required to scan the area several times in pre-determined routes in order to map out the area. The fishing boats disrupt this activity as well.
"One day the company got a call from such a boat whose men shamelessly demanded tens of thousands of shekels to clear from the area," one source said. "This project is worth millions of dollars and any day where the ships' work is delayed costs more money."
At least two Israeli companies said they encountered the phenomenon but both denied agreeing to pay the extortionists. It is estimated however that some public companies did agree to pay the money.