Piracy and the Global Maritime Industry

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Image is for representational purposes only. Courtesy: CNBC

For a lay man, a pirate is mostly a fictional and almost comical character that the movies portray. He is often depicted as a larger than life personality with a weakness for rum, an eyepatch and a gun or sword on his arm.

Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Captain Phillips in the movie by the same name allowed the audience an actual understanding of the terrifying events that unfold when a vessel is taken over by pirates.

In reality, a pirate looks no different than you or me and the threat he poses, deadlier than anything a movie could portray. According to Save Our Seafarers, “it’s believed that 38 seafarers are still being held hostage by armed gangs of Somali pirates, in appalling conditions and being subjected to physical and psychological abuse.”

Today, the threat is imminent and the occurrence of these incidents is alarmingly frequent. Across the world, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by shippers and insurers due to piracy. After the decline in cases since the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off Horn of Africa, there is again an increase in recent times.

CNBC states, “Once contained by international policing efforts, piracy appears to be staging a comeback. According to a new report from watchdog group Oceans Beyond Piracy, seafaring incidents involving kidnap for ransom jumped last year, with West Africa and Asia becoming prime targets. The latter’s Sulu and Celebes Seas, neither of which saw any attacks at all in 2015, combined for 21 in 2016, the organization said in its State of Maritime Piracy report. Overall, Asia led the way with 125 instances of piracy, while West Africa had 95: Those figures included armed robbery, hijackings, kidnappings and ship boardings.”

On September 7, as informed by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, four persons armed with a gun and knives boarded an LPG carrier while the ship was sailing some 35 nautical miles south-south east off Pulau Aur. “They stole crew and ship’s properties and escaped,” the piracy watchdog said.

On July 14, at Manila South Harbour Anchorage, Philippines, two robbers boarded an anchored container ship via the hawse pipe. Duty watch keeper informed the Chief Officer who raised the alarm. Crew mustered and moved towards the forward. Seeing the alerted crew, the robbers escaped with ship’s properties. Manila VTMS informed.

In the same area, on July 10, unnoticed robbers boarded an anchored container, stole ship’s properties and escaped. The theft was noticed by the duty crew during routine rounds.

On April 28, near Bonny, Nigeria, four boats chased and fired upon a refrigerated cargo ship underway. Master increased speed and conducted evasive manoeuvres. The pirates aborted the attack after they failed to board the vessel.

On 13 March 2017, the Aris 13, was hijacked by pirates in two skiffs a few miles off Alula, the northernmost town of Somalia in Puntland. About two dozen armed men boarded the vessel and immediately turned off its tracking system after a distress call was sent from the ship. The ship was taking oil from Djibouti to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. On March 16 an intense gunfight started between the pirates and the Puntland Maritime Police Force, followed by intense negotiations between the marine force, local clan elders and the pirates, effectively ending the hijacking later that day.

The above are details of the 30 odd incidents reported in this year alone.

With the rise of piracy in recent years, attention has primarily been focused on the growing number of Somali pirates. In the past few years, the media has brought to our attention that at any given time somewhere between seven to twenty vessels are being held hostage. These vessels can be cruise liners, personal yachts, or commercial vessels.

In an effort to increase the governmental response to the Somali piracy crisis, the leading maritime shipping associations and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have initiated the “Save Our Seafarers” campaign, in which governments are asked to take the following steps to eradicate piracy at sea and ashore:

  • Reduce the effectiveness of the easily identifiable pirate mother ships.
  • Authorize naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment.
  • Fully criminalize all acts of piracy and the intent to commit piracy under national laws in accordance with their mandatory duty to cooperate to suppress piracy under international conventions.
  • Increase naval assets available in the area.
  • Provide greater protection and support for seafarers.
  • Trace and criminalize the organizers and financiers behind the criminal networks.

Seafarers should demand armed guards in all hostile waters where even a minutest risk exists for militants to settle scores with theirs or any foreign government or to wage war on a foreign nation. For those who do not track IMB piracy reports, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Singapore strait, Malacca strait, South China Sea, Lagos, Cotonou(Benin), Lome (Togo), Abidjan (Ivory coast), Gulf of Aden/Red Sea and Somalia are prominent piracy prone areas as declared by IMB PRC and seafarers should be vigilant when passing through them.

Captain David Watkins of China Navigation said, “The key to most avoidance of piracy attacks is vigilance—hardening the ship, and having a very motivated crew with a good attitude toward surveillance, and knowing what to do if you’re under threat.” He added, “If enough impoverished areas of the world feel that what the pirates have carried out has been very successful, this will spread.”

References: icc-ccs.org, costanzireport.com, cnbc.com, worldshipping.org, natureandculture.net