Home' Ships and Shipping : April 2011 Contents The following is a necessarily heavily edited version of the recent,
much longer MTI Network Piracy Report 2011*
Some 22,000 ships a year pass through the Gulf of Aden
carrying oil from the Middle East and goods from Asia to
Europe and North America, however concerns of piracy now
dominate operational agendas, commercial decisions as well as
the hearts and minds of owners, managers and seafarers sailing
these waters and surrounding ocean areas.
The huge spike in piracy attacks and the high profile hijackings
of many commercial vessels in 2009 resulted in the deployment of
a substantial coalition of naval forces from around the world, with
the aim of patrolling the shipping lanes to prevent further attacks.
Britain, Denmark, Germany, Greece, South Korea, China, France,
Russia, India and Malaysia, among others, have all sent naval
forces to the region, with the EU spearheading its own anti-piracy
mission, code-named “Atlanta”.
UN Resolution 1851 has authorised states already involved in
fighting piracy off Somalia to “take all necessary measures that are
appropriate in Somalia to suppress acts of piracy and armed
robbery at sea.”
Recent figures from the International Maritime Bureau Piracy
Reporting Centre for 2010 have reported record numbers of crew
hostage-taking, citing 1,818 seafarer abductions worldwide, up
from 1,050 in 2009 and 188 in 2006. Activity by Somali pirates
remains the dominant threat with 1,016 crewmembers taken
hostage by pirates in this region and 49 vessels hijacked.
The Gulf of Aden has seen the most dramatic decrease in
activity, with pirate incidents declining from 117 in 2009 to 53 in
2010. This reduction of over 50 percent has been directly attributed
to the naval efforts in the region as well as improved best practises
employed by ships and ships’ operators sailing this route.
However, Somali pirates are still responsible for the
overwhelming majority of incidences recorded in the recent piracy
report and have responded to more coordinated Gulf of Aden naval
operations by widening the geographical scope of their attacks.
“Mother ships” are now routinely used by pirates, allowing them to
attack further from shore without concern over access to food,
water and supplies. This new development has also contributed
towards the rise in piracy numbers from the previous year.
Figures as of February 2011 show 717 people and 33 ships being
held off the coast of Somalia, with 14 ships having been hijacked
to the end of February, 2011.
The ever-changing tactics and locations of pirate activity
continue to put the lives of seafarers, the commercial operations of
companies and the transit of world goods at risk.
MTI has handled a significant number of hijackings and
attempted hijackings throughout 2008/2009/2010/2011 and
below are outlined some of the key findings from responding to
Slow vessels with a low freeboard and low crew numbers with
inadequate watch keeping appear to be the most vulnerable to
pirate attacks. However pirates by no means limit their activity to
these types of ships, having also successfully pirated VLCCs and
other such challenging targets.
It is estimated that crew have approximately 15 minutes to
respond to an attack from the moment a pirate skiff is spotted to
when the ship is under the control of the pirates. This means that
crewmembers have precious little time to react. In some cases ships
have effectively outrun or out-manoeuvred pirate boats,
highlighting that effective training and preparation of crews can
lead to outsmarting pirate tactics.
Pirates usually attack a vessel in speedboats / skiffs from the stern
before throwing grappling hooks tied to rope ladders over the side so
they can board. They are typically armed with rifles and/or rocket-
propelled grenades to prevent the crew from resisting any attack.
The area that the pirates operate in appears to be ever
increasing. Pirates now regularly use “mother ships” which are
used as staging posts for attacks further out to sea. The old warning
to stay at least 200 nautical miles from the coast has now been
replaced by warnings to stay at least 600nm away. Despite such
recommendations, in December 2010 the ‘Jahan Moni’ was
hijacked approximately 1,300nm east of Eyl, highlighting the
ever-encroaching plague of piracy in the waters beyond those
surrounding the Somali coast.
Once captured, the average duration of a ship’s detention seems to
be between two and five months, although this varies significantly
depending on the negotiation tactics employed and other variables.
Ensuring strong and timely communication with families is
vital during the period the vessel is being held. Aside from the
crew, family members are the parties most deeply affected by any
hostage situation. All support that can be offered to family
members at such a time should be made fully available. Any
friction between families and the ship management company or
owner only serves to increase the distress already being felt. In
some cases pirates have used relatives as a pawn in negotiations,
contacting them directly and telling them to pressure companies
into paying. Keeping relatives well informed, secure, comfortable
and reassured goes a long way to handling such a crisis effectively.
The first quarter of 2011 has witnessed an observed increase in
the used of violence towards hostages both during an attack and
once in captivity. Previously it was determined that few
crewmembers have actually been hurt or killed by their captives.
Pirates have generally taken adequate care of crew with some even
following a pirate code of good conduct ensuring the valuable crew
Poor living conditions and stress have previously been the main
difficulties experienced by crew held and consideration of this
should be taken when sup-porting crew members after their
release. However, the recent execution of two Beluga Shipping
seafarers after an attempted escape and the execution of four
American yacht hostages, signals an escalation in the use of
violence should pirates feel they are not getting what they want or
are being physically challenged by navies or crew.
The ransom figures demanded by pirates have drastically
increased throughout te past three years. While initial ransom
payments towards the beginning of 2008 were in the region of
US$750,000, that figure has now risen to an average of US$5.4
million, with US$9 million being the highest figure believed to
have been paid out to Somalis for the release of one vessel. This
dramatic increase is mainly due to the hijacking of larger ships
carrying more crew and more valuable cargo.
How to respond – the debate
Debate has raged within the maritime community over how to
respond to piracy and best protect crews and cargoes in dangerous
waters. Much of the debate has centred on the use of private
security contractors or armed guards.
While MTI believes that each company should be responsible
for establishing their own policy regarding safety at sea and are
keen to avoid making recommendations regarding the formulation
and management of security procedures, we feel it is prudent to
April 2011 SHIPS AND SHIPPING
Members of a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team from the
guided-missile cruiser USS ‘Gettysburg’ (CG 64) and US Coast Guard Tactical
Law Enforcement Team South Detachment 409 capture suspected pirates after
responding to a merchant vessel distress signal while operating in the
Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) area of responsibility as part of Combined
Task Force (CTF) 151 in May 2009
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