Cyber-crimes and piracy won’t just go away

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The more advanced the shipping industry becomes, the more opportunities for the criminals: it’s a view some hold but the reality is that cyber-crime remains a constant threat and the kidnapping of seven Filipino seafarers in the Nigerian delta in September proves piracy is still with us.

BIMCO – the largest of the international shipping associations representing shipowners – released a recent survey which suggested more than 20% of respondents had been subject to a cyber- attack in the last 12 months. One of the real issues that appears to be overlooked when it comes to responses to these sorts of figures, is the lack of training some cite as serious for the maritime sector.

The role of the seafarer is rapidly changing from that of a person on-board fulfilling a specific duty or multiple roles, to a person monitoring the operations of a vessel that may increasingly be driven by digital technology. It is not as simple as this sounds: IT has taken over much of the mechanisms an engineer might be used to – from checking and monitoring engines and navigation, through to the newer concerns over emissions and environmental policies. But the seafarer can have a big say in how cyber-crime and piracy are handled.

Training for such incidences is still needed and on a deeper scale. Today it is not so much warding off fast boats looking to board container vessels or freighters – it still happens as the Filipino seafarers will attest to – but more monitoring and being aware of the risks and procedures in preventing navigational changes and shutdowns. The risks are to ship machinery, the bridge systems and programmable control systems which are increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats and form the basis for concern in the maritime sector. Seafarers need to be educated in dealing with these shutdowns and IT-hijacks.

The future of shipping will be in more automated vessels, particularly in the first instance those coastal traders and short-sea operations. With more seafarers finding roles reduced, they may be moved onshore to monitor IT systems or remain on-board a vessel for that all important mechanical maintenance. Whatever form the future of shipping takes, the better maritime -educated and trained seafarers are, the better chance we will have of warding off the pirates both real and in cyberspace.

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