Piracy Then and Now

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Filed Under: Container Freight

Modern Privacy: A History

In the late 1600s buccaneers were taken seriously in European nation states such as England, France, and the Netherlands and collectively they were determined to banish the thieves primarily of English and French descent. Although the Governor of France no longer granted letters of marque to privateers the piracy continued to grow. Determination and hostility of the European nation states became more effective yet the War of the Great Alliance disabled their actions. Privateers rose once again legalizing legitimate piracy. However, a new type of piracy raised its head.

The Buccaneers were all but eliminated after the war but Freebooters continued the piracy. It was in 1692 the Buccaneers suffered a loss of a favorite locale, Port Royal, when destroyed by an earthquake. When the French took down the Cartegena, the piracy era ended.

War once again jostled pirate activity. The War of the Spanish Succession from 1702 – 1713 would be the last resurgence of pirates in the Caribbean, bringing more attacks on the English, Danish, Dutch and French than ever.  Similar to The War of the Great Alliance, the Succession also brought back the use of privateering, and when the war ended many of those privateers had nowhere to go.  No longer a part of the Royal Navy, many chose to gather in the Bahamas where they planned several attacks against the French and English.

In the years that followed piracy remained problematic, more barbaric than ever. They had successfully raided the French and English with little loss or damage to their own.  It was a privately financed expedition led by Governor Woodes Rodgers that successfully drove the pirates from the Bahamas.  It was English property law and local resistance that led to the demise of Buccaneer pirates.

The Continued Threat

In the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, there were 439 pirate attacks and 45 merchant vessels hijacked worldwide in 2011.  237 of these attacks and 28 of these hijackings included the wider Indian Ocean.  And, as of spring 2012 there have been more than 51 attacks off Somalia (121 worldwide), 11 hijackings off Somalia (13 worldwide), and over 158 hostages taken off Somalia.  12 ships and more than 170 seafarers were at one time being held hostage by Somali pirates for ransom.

Liner vessels containing ships and roll-on/roll-off vessels are generally considered to be at a lower risk for hijackings because of their higher operating speeds and freeboard (height above the water) yet they have been consistently targeted by Somali pirates.

In 2010, 32 liner vessels were attacked and six were hijacked and in 2011, 65 liner vessels were attacked and one was hijacked. Somali pirates were using hijacked merchant ships as mother ships to attack those in the north Arabian Sea and near the coastline of India, more than 1500 nautical miles from Somalia.

In multiple, high-speed skiffs they approached and fired on the bridges of vessels with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) to slow or stop the vessels so they could get on board.  Once hijacked, the pirates typically requested a large ransom payment for the safe return of the crew, vessel and cargo.

Addressing these threats is a difficult challenge for governments and businesses. The World Shipping Council (WSC) and its member companies have been working closely with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), other international maritime trade associations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and various governments to closely monitor the ongoing piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean and to reduce the risk that commercial vessels transiting the affected region will be attacked and successfully hijacked.

The WSC has been active in the development and revision of the industry Best Management Practices (BMPs) for ships to prevent and respond to pirate attacks. Specifically, the BMPs have requested vessels to communicate their intentions to transit the piracy high risk area to Naval Forces in the region and to employ self-protection measures based on a vessel-specific risk assessment.

The BMPs also provide ships with important steps to take if boarded by pirates. To assist in the piracy issue, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 89) approved interim guidance to ship owners/operators for the use of private armed guards on ships operating in the high risk area, and have drafted interim recommendations to flag states on the use of private armed guards.

Government Participation to Stop Piracy

The leading maritime shipping associations and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have initiated the “Save Our Seafarers” campaign as a joint effort to increase the governmental response to the Somali piracy crisis, 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.

The day the shipping world finally realized the seriousness of the Somali pirate threat a former Special Boat Service officer was aboard a ship in the Gulf of Aden when news reached him that three ships had been hijacked in the same waters within 24 hours. If the international freight trade was to continue there would have to be major change in piracy policy.

On Black Thursday, August 21, 2008, heavily armed pirates in small skiffs seized the merchant vessels Iran Dayana, Irene and BBC Trinidad and held their crews and cargos to ransom.

The Pirates who had long plagued fishermen off the Somali coast, were taking huge freighters which are the lifeblood of international trade.

Captain Phillips, a film from Sony Pictures portrayed the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking showing how even the largest vessels were sitting ducks. Vessels as much as 200 yards long and weighing thousands of tons, were helpless against bandits with just a skiff, AK-47s and a scaling ladder or grappling hook.

A hijacking of such proportion is a huge financial hit for a shipping firm. Not to mention the threat to the crew, the cost of the ransom and the largest vessels being rented at tens of thousands of dollars a day and carrying cargo worth hundreds of millions.

The small crews of those giant boats were insistent to know why they were not protected. Almost overnight maritime security increased in exasperating proportions. It had no structure, licensing, nothing. Everything was created over a span of four years.

Razor wire and electric fences and non-lethal weapons such as high-pressure water hoses and sound guns were being used. However, the tanker operators remained wary of private security companies to guard ships.

A great challenge of security firms was persuading ship operators they could be trusted. Made of ex-military, most of them British military, were not going to become murderers overnight.

Those who did take the risk with armed guards soon saw their value.

In 2010 armed guards became an industry standard for the world’s big shipping firms. Now, there are hundreds of armed guards at sea off the coast of Somalia on any given day.

The world’s governments saw the danger posed by the pirates and began to take their own measures. NATO, the EU and countries such as India and Russia have warships on patrol in the Indian Ocean. The area is also combed by maritime patrol aircraft which can warn vessels when pirates put out to sea.

The Kenyan army’s invasion of Somalia, which participated in the terrorist murders in Nairobi also robbed the pirates of many launching points.

Somali piracy has fallen since 2009. Only two hijackings in the first eight months of 2013 were reported by The International Maritime Bureau, down from dozens in previous years.

Because of the levels of piracy falling, there is concern the industry may again become complacent. Cost of security reflects a burden within the competition of international shipping and operators perceive it as a cost that can be cut. Fear remains present, and the anxiety of another big ship falling prey to the pirate is felt by many aboard those ships.

Remaining Diligent

  • The use of armed guards. A large ship typically sails with four guards. The industry has been dominated by British firms and guards with careers in the military, highly experienced former Royal Marines marketing their skills.
  • Sound guns. A Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), is similar to devices used for crowd control, has been used by several ships. It emits an intolerable beam of sound to drive off attackers. However, operators are concerned about focusing on a fast-moving skiff.
  • Lasers.  The British arms firm BAE Systems, in 2011, developed an anti-pirate laser to dazzle approaching pirates. The green beam was strong enough to make it impossible to aim weapons into its path and was effective at up to a mile.
  • Water cannons.  High-pressure cannons or hoses spraying from the ship are designed to blow away pirates as they scale the ship’s sides, or to swamp their tiny craft as they approach. Remote controls allow the operators safety should the pirates open fire.
  • Razor wire, cages and electric fences. Ships have created physical defenses with layers of barriers, wire and cages called “hardening”. They are designed to stop pirates from getting aboard and preventing their reaching the crew.
  • Boat traps. Nets or wires to snare and entangle the propellers of pirate skiffs as they approach.
  • Foam.  Slippery anti-traction foam to be sprayed over a ship’s sides or decks to hamper pirates as they try to climb aboard.
  • Foul-smelling liquid. Devices shoot slicks of foul-smelling liquid to cause a burning sensation on the skin, causing pirates to break end their attack or jump in the water to clean themselves.

While global awareness of piracy has increased significantly, it has yet to be determined how to prevent these attacks from re-occurring. Until then, attacks on cargo ships and other valuable vessels may continue and the cost will affect everyone in the industry.

Aug 25 2014
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