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February 2010

Searchlight Feature - 28th February 2010

The Continuing Piracy Issue - Part 4

Apart from the two day conference due to be held in Hamburg on the 27th & 28th April mentioned in the last Newsletter this piracy topic continues to produce a lot of type as well as many discussions – and rightly so.

At a recent meeting in Dubai on the topic a significant amount of questions and answers were generated at the end of the presentation. It appears obvious now that we at Carmania are not the only ones now voicing concern that little or nothing appears being done to counteract this everyday menace. Ironically at this Dubai meeting several persons were advocating that the ‘powers that be’ start listening to the seamen – the men who are risking being hijacked. They are more likely to come up with solutions to be seriously considered than some of the ‘maritime industrial leaders’’ We realise it is a very serious problem but it must be solved sooner rather than later. Only a few seamen have been physically injured and few killed until now but that situation could change suddenly so we need to take some really effective action sooner rather than later.

Some vessels are sailing with armed guards and some governments are offering the services of armed military personnel. Although there appears to be no strong opposition to these efforts it does raise the question that should such armed guards be used on a large scale there will be significant logistical problems to overcome. Where, for instance, will such numbers of personnel be billeted while waiting transfer to various vessels; from which ports would they embark and disembark; can helicopters used to ferry them out to the requisite vessels?

There are many companies that oppose any form of armed personnel onboard their vessels. Such companies will have to rely on other tactics such as hardening their vessels using barbed wire or better still razor wire. There are a number of devices now available to supposedly deter pirate boarding and they include, high frequency surface wave radars, AIS (compulsory) and long range acoustic devices. There are the less passive devices available such as hot water blankets, projectile immobilizers, very high frequency acoustic devises capable of a 155db directional sound signal and electrical shock devices. For the latter some crew training and disciple will be required if we are to avoid the defenders being liable to the same treatment as any would be attacker.

None of the above will reduce or eliminate the scourge of piracy because nothing mentioned meets the requirement of making hijacking costly to the pirates themselves by increasing the risk to themselves of being killed or being held for long periods in captivity. The other side of the problem is the fact these people come from a lawless society and the international community appears to be incapable of changing this situation, or unwilling to get involved in any process to implement the due process of law and order in Somalia.

There appears to be very little communication with the seamen who are exposed to the risks of hijacking and captivity and only a token notice taken of those who have experienced actual hijackings. This must change if we are to move forward. These are the people who should be consulted and have their opinions contributing to the solutions. They should be the major contributors and not just ‘someone to bring into the arena’’ Maybe the industry leaders do not want to consult with seamen who have been on the receiving end of a hijacking or attempted hijacking because these people are almost certain ‘’to a man’ to require that their vessels be armed. Maybe it’s only the industries leaders who won’t contemplate having arms on board their vessels? What will it take to have an effective offensive force on board? Four days training of all seamen would make them capable of handling a weapon of identical type. It costs money to train and put small arms on board the vessels – but this would be small costs compared to the costs in the form of ransoms which have been paid over the last few years, without also mentioning the cost of trauma to seamen who have been subjected to these hijackings. These comments are not necessarily advocating armed merchantmen but has the option really and seriously been considered or just ignored out of hand? I would suggest the latter has always been the case and no serious thought or costing has been given to it. It’s about time this option was fully investigated and the sooner the better and let’s have an effective deterrent and try to rid the oceans of this dangerous menace.