The Paradox of Modern-day Piracy at Sea:
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NSBmagazine 12 / 2009 (pdf)
- The Paradox of Modern-day Piracy at Sea -
Its dangers, and how to reduce them
by John Knott
One of today’s paradoxes is how groups of semi-literate, part¬time fishermen, from a country designated as having the worst humanitarian conditions in the world, are able to outwit the world‘s most powerful navies, and hijack vessels and create havoc for commercial shipping. Attacks on vessels in the wa¬ters off Somalia are said to be in reaction to illegal fishing by foreign trawlers and the dumping of toxic waste. But whatever merit there may originally have been in explanations of that type, it is clear that nowadays those engaged in acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the western areas of the Indian Ocean are simply after large amounts of money. They do not care whose lives they endanger, or how many families are traumatised by the capture of crew members, or what cost and disruption they cause to the shipping industry, and indirectly to consumers worldwide.
During last year there were 21,420 transits of the Suez Ca¬nal, which gives an approximate (but obviously not precise) indication of the number of vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden. During the same period 42 vessels, including a few yachts, were hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and the western area of the Indian Ocean, which put the risk of a hijack during 2008 at approximately one in 500, or 0.2 per cent. Those odds may seem to be quite favourable for a shipowner, but they do not tell the whole story. And they are deceptive, because, as we shall see, some ships are more vulnerable than others.
In addition to the number of ships hijacked off Somalia last year, many more were attacked. Probably not all incidents were reported, but the International Maritime Bureau record¬ed a total of 111 attacks. And despite the presence of a fleet of multi-national warships, the frequency of incidents has in¬creased this year. Already by mid-May of 2009 the IMB had recorded 114 attacks, exceeding the number for the whole of 2008: by the end of June 2009 the total had risen to 146. And although the ratio of attacks resulting in hijackings was some¬what reduced (about 25 per cent, compared with about 38 per cent for 2008), there had been a sharp increase in the number of reported incidents in which pirates had fired upon vessels during an unsuccessful attack: already 73 by mid-2009, against 39 for the whole of 2008. Some more unwelcome statistics:
for the period January to June 2009, the country managing the largest number of vessels attacked world-wide was Germany, with 38, ahead of Greece with 33, Singapore with 17, and Hong Kong with 13.
The disruption caused to shipping by piracy is dramatic, but the outcome in human terms is even more striking. During 2008, Somali pirates held 815 crew members hostage. Already by mid-2009 a further 485 had been captured. The vast major¬ity of such hostages, but not all, survive attacks and periods of capture, but it is likely that all will be seriously affected by their experience. And their families, friends and colleagues will suffer at least many weeks, and sometimes many months, of anxiety and worry. The lasting effects of piracy in human terms are often not visible, and cannot be measured simply by conventional means, such as in money; but they are real, and the victims are not limited to those who have actually been held hostage.
Somalia itself is a virtually lawless country; a large part is un¬der the control of Islamist insurgents; and almost one-half of the population is starving. These facts may help to explain the actions of the pirates, but certainly do not justify them. Ultimately, Somali piracy will be extinguished only when that country has a strong government uniting the various clans; a healthy economy giving opportunities for gainful and law¬ful employment; and adequate security forces on land and at sea. But these conditions cannot be realised in the near future, while the Transitional Federal Government is fighting for its survival.
The key question
Meanwhile, an important question is: What practical measures can be taken to minimise the risk of a hijacking, and give crews and vessels the best chances of survival if a ship is attacked? This question can best be tackled in three categories:
• General, pre-incident strategies
• Specific, ship-board measures, and
• Prepared responses.
(1) General, Pre-incident Strategies
The first matter to consider is whether it is necessary or desir¬able for a particular vessel to transit the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and the area of the Indian Ocean within about 1,000 kilometres of the eastern coast of Somalia. Sometimes there is no feasible alternative, or one that is commercially vi¬able, even after allowing for saving the cost of Suez Canal dues and possibly war risk premiums if a vessel were diverted around the Cape of Good Hope. Such a diversion would, of course, be less significant for a vessel on passage between Hong Kong or Shanghai and Europe; but, even so, would add about another 5,600 kilometres, compared with about 7,500 kilometres if on a route between, say, Ras Tanura and Europe.
A related consideration is that Somali pirates are tactically in¬genious. They undertake their operations in areas, and using methods, that maximise the prospects of success. Thus, for example, after the arrival of warships tasked with protecting commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden, the pirates extended their hunting ground not only into the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, but also well into the Indian Ocean. There, in November 2008, at more than 800 kilometres south-east of Mombasa, they astonished the shipping community by capturing the VLCC Sirius Star, a tanker with a deadweight of over 300,000 metric tons, and an overall length the same as that of a Nimitz¬class aircraft carrier. Ironically, the Sirius Star, on passage from the Persian Gulf, had intended to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. It would have taken the pirates several days to reach the area where they attacked.
If Somali-based pirates, deploying skiffs from mother-ships, can hijack merchant vessels 800 kilometres into the Indian Ocean, they can also attack ships at much greater distances. A conclu¬sion to draw from the hijacking of the Sirius Star and other vessels such as the Faina, with its cargo of 33 ex-Russian bat¬tle tanks and other heavy weapons, is that virtually any ves¬sel sailing between Europe and East African countries such as Kenya; or the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, or India; and to a lesser extent South-East or East Asia; is potentially at risk of attack by Somali-based pirates, even if the vessel sails via the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Suez Canal. And whereas it may be thought that the problem for pirates, of locating and intercepting shipping well out in the Ocean, gives a measure of safety—the dubious concept of „security through obscurity“— a counter-consideration is that naval protection will be too far away to be of any help in the event of an attack.
The degree of risk faced by any commercial vessel which enters an area in which Somali pirates operate, depends on a number of factors. Some are specific to the particular vessel, while others are dependent on external conditions. Of those specific to a vessel, the most important are its speed, the height of its free¬board, and the nature of its cargo. At one extreme, the most vulnerable would be a small vessel such as a yacht, a trawler, or a slow-moving tug, particularly if conducting a tow; while at the other extreme, the relatively high speed of a large liner should offer a good degree of protection. Even so, the attack on MSC Melody in April—with astonishing reports of passen¬gers throwing deck-chairs to prevent pirates from boarding—
shows that liners are not invulnerable. For vessels between the fastest and slowest there is a wide range of varying risks, one important consideration being what effect gunfire could have on any cargo. From the point of view of vessel capture, it is generally considered that a speed of 16 knots marks the bound¬ary between relative vulnerability and relative safety, particu¬larly if a fast-moving vessel has a high freeboard and conducts evasion manoeuvres. These include zig-zagging to increase the swell, within safety limits, if this can be carried out without too much reduction in speed. For the pirates, effecting an opposed boarding becomes more difficult in rough weather with winds at Beaufort Scale 5 and above, which produce a wave height of more than two metres. Accordingly, the worse the weather, the less chance there is of pirates being able to board a moving vessel, which explains the lull in attacks during the Monsoon season.
Of vital importance in avoiding a hijack is an adequate, well¬trained and alert crew, who have rehearsed anti-piracy meas¬ures, and who know exactly what to do in the event of an at¬tack. Even better, they will react before an attack starts, while hostile craft are still several miles away, because they will have been maintaining a proper lookout, both visually and by the use of radar; they will have been in contact with naval forces; and they will be monitoring radio channels for warnings of pi¬rate activity. A detailed anti-piracy plan for the specific vessel will have been prepared by the Company Security Officer in conjunction with the master, and will have been modified if necessary in light of the features of a particular voyage. The anti-piracy plan will include not just procedures to be followed in the event of an attack—such as sounding the alarm and making a piracy announcement to the crew, alerting the ap¬propriate naval forces and the vessel‘s managers, and activating fire hoses and other defensive measures—but may also cover the installation of structural defences (which we shall consider later).
Passage through the Gulf of Aden
A summary of the relevant naval liaison and command offices engaged in counter-piracy activities entails an introduction to several acronyms. Naval units currently engaged on coun¬ter-piracy duties off the coast of Somalia are mostly grouped within the Combined Maritime Forces‘ Combined Task Force 151 („CTF-151“); the European Union‘s naval task force EU NAVFOR Somalia (Operation Atalanta); and NATO‘s Opera¬tion Ocean Shield. Other naval units, such as from Russia and China, co-operate closely with these forces, through the United Kingdom‘s Maritime Trade Organisation („UKMTO“) office in Dubai. In turn, UKMTO Dubai liaises with EU NAVFOR‘s Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) („MSCHOA“), with CTF-151, and with the NATO Shipping Centre in the UK. Both EU NAVFOR ATALANTA and MSCHOA are under the command of Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, based at North¬wood, UK. The conduit for information passing between the US Navy, the Combined Maritime Forces (including CTF- 151), and the commercial maritime community in the Middle East is the Maritime Liaison Office („MARLO“) in Bahrain.
In order to gain the full benefit of these forces and facilities, ves¬sels intending to sail to or from Europe via the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden should voluntarily make their plans known several days in advance to UKMTO Dubai and to MARLO, and should register with the MSCHOA office. Subsequently, they should submit daily reports to UKMTO and MARLO of their noon positions and speed, with more frequent reports when in areas of heightened risk. Times should be expressed in UTC. The preferred method of communication is email.
The currently preferred route through the Gulf of Aden has been designated as the International Recommended Transit Corridor („IRTC“). It runs approximately east to west, with westbound vessels using the northern part of the corridor and eastbound vessels using the southern portion. Full details are shown on a non-navigational Chart Q6099, titled „Anti-Piracy Planning Chart—Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea“, which has been available since June 2009 from the UK Hydro¬graphic Office: www.ukho.gov.uk. The chart is extremely use¬ful as it also includes brief guidance for Masters, and contact details for UKMTO, MARLO, and MSCHOA. It would be sen¬sible to have a copy on board every ship transiting those areas.
Despite what one might expect, vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden after registering with the naval authorities, and making daily progress reports, are generally not accompanied by war¬ships in the same way wartime convoys have been escorted. The distances involved, and the numbers of commercial ves¬sels in the area, are simply too great for the available naval forces. Rather, vessels are generally grouped with others of similar speed, and dispatched in loose convoy formation, al¬though sometimes special arrangements are made for particu¬larly vulnerable vessels. The convoy‘s progress is monitored visually and on radar by warships patrolling, or stationed at intervals, along the IRTC. The convoy vessels also maintain watch and report suspicious incidents. Additional monitoring is undertaken by maritime patrol and other aircraft; by satel¬lite observation; by remotely-piloted drones; and by electronic surveillance.
AIS and navigation lights
With some similarity to the feeding habits of wild animals, Somali pirates prefer to launch their attacks at dawn and at dusk, so these are times when vessels in danger areas should be proceeding at the maximum speed which is safe in the circum¬stances. There have been only a few attacks at night, when the main danger occurs at times of strong lunar illumination—at or near a full-moon, with little or no cloud cover. The current recommendation by MARLO is for vessels capable of travelling in excess of 18 knots to transit between 47º East and 49º East at night-time. But while it is permissible for a Master to turn off the AIS system (although a better procedure within the IRTC is to leave it on, but transmit only basic information), naviga¬tion lights should always be lit between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility. There have been reports of vessels in the Gulf of Aden sailing at high speed at night, not showing any lights, and with their Automatic Identifica¬tion Systems („AIS“) turned off, no doubt in the belief that this makes them less vulnerable to a hijacking attempt. That may be correct, but such action is foolhardy as it enormously increases the risk of collision in those congested waters, and puts innocent vessels in danger.
(2) Specific, Ship-board Measures
There are a number of precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of a piracy attack against an unarmed merchant ship in the vicinity of Somalia, in addition to transiting the IRTC in a convoy and maintaining radio contact with naval forces and other vessels. The following ideas include some pooled from a variety of sources.
(a) AIS awareness
Bridge Officers should monitor AIS to identify ships which are not transmitting an AIS target. They should also be aware that the system can be spoofed, although it is doubtful that pirates have the capability to do this.
(b) Radio watch
A constant radio watch should be maintained, covering naval forces and distress and safety frequencies. Maritime safety in¬formation broadcasts should be monitored.
(c) Water defences
Fire hoses, including additional hoses with special fittings to facilitate the directing of water jets, should be rigged on the external decks and kept pressurised. The placing of a dummy to pose as a crew member has been known to be part of an ef¬fective deterrent. Hose pressures of 80 lbs a square inch and above have deterred attackers. Water jets can not only physi¬cally repel boarders but can swamp their boats and damage engines and electrical systems. Some chemical tankers have used fire-suppressant foam, deployed along both sides of the vessel, to prevent a boarding. Some special systems to deliver water jets along the side of ships are commercially available, and others are under development. A possibility may be to introduce a chemical or DNA marking agent, as part of an evi¬dence-generating procedure.
Particularly at night, searchlights can be used to identify po¬tential attackers and restrict their vision. Illumination of all deck lights can alert potential attackers that their presence has been detected. Lookouts should be equipped with good qual¬ity, low-light binoculars. Even better would be late-generation night-vision glasses and thermal imaging devices.
(e) Securing decks
All the shell openings on the mooring decks should be secured, with hawse pipe covers in place. Mooring decks should be locked if possible.
(f) Ship manoeuvres
Aggressive manoeuvres should be used to discourage pirates from attempting to board, where these can be carried out safe¬ly. On several occasions pirates have been thrown out of their boats into the sea by turbulence from a target vessel‘s wash.
(g) Vessel speed
An important action, in areas where there is a risk of piracy, is for ships to increase their speed to the maximum for safe navigation. Successful piracy attacks occur mainly on vessels suffering from engine failure, or which are operating at low speeds (below about 16 knots), particularly if they have low freeboards. An opposed boarding (i.e. a non-compliant board
ing) of a vessel with a high freeboard, travelling at speed, and manoeuvring aggressively (but not to the extent of compromis¬ing sufficient headway), is very difficult to achieve, particularly if the crew are taking other defensive measures.
Vigilance around the open decks including, in known areas of piracy, the posting of extra lookouts, will increase the chance of long range identification of a potential attacker and will there¬fore provide further time for evasive action and other measures to be taken. Lookouts should be in radio communication with the bridge.
(i) Attention to stern
The posting of additional lookouts on the stern (from where pirates often approach a target vessel), and covering radar blind spots, should be considered. Radars should be constantly manned. A yacht radar could be installed at the stern of a vessel, to give warning of the approach of small craft which otherwise might not be detected in time.
(j) Restricting access
For ships not carrying inflammable cargo a removable, non-le¬thal electrified fence can be fitted, extending horizontally from the deck and capable of delivering a 9,000-volt pulse. Such a product is specifically endorsed by the IMB, and details are given on their web site. The fence can be swung out of the way on its mountings when access is needed. An alternative, low-technology approach, suitable for any vessel, would be to firmly attach razor wire at vulnerable points.
(k) Restricting movement
All doors allowing access to the bridge, engine-room, steering¬gear compartment, officers‘ cabins, crew accommodation and other vulnerable areas should be secured and regularly inspect¬ed. Restricted areas should have access controls and automatic alarms. Strengthened doors and windows may help to prevent an attacker gaining access to key areas of the ship, although this concept is likely to fail if violence is threatened against any crew member caught outside a protected area.
(l) Constructing a citadel
An idea which is increasingly gaining favour, and also generat¬ing some controversy, is for a secure area, often called a citadel, to be constructed, into which the crew of an attacked vessel could retreat if it became apparent that pirates would succeed in boarding. In fact, some new buildings are being designed to have such a feature. The intention is for the crew to remain in relative safety—there is no such thing as absolute safety at sea—in the expectation that they could be rescued by naval and military forces. However, great care needs to be paid to the details, and a comprehensive plan needs to be prepared to cover all aspects of the use of such a facility. Among the most basic considerations when constructing a citadel would be to ensure that the occupants are protected from gunfire; that they have a source of power, supplies of food and water, some medical equipment, and hygiene arrangements; that there is a means of communicating with the outside world; and that they have a means of escape in the event of an even more serious emergency. In addition, it would be useful for the occupants to be able to monitor other activity on and nearby the vessel.
There are, of course, many other features affecting safety and security and other matters that would need to be considered before installing and using a citadel; including, in particular, the methods that may be available to pirates trying to gain en¬try. A sophisticated model would be multi-layered, and would include means of secure movement between decks—but con¬siderations of space and cost would prevent anything too am¬bitious. If a citadel were to be used, the naval co-ordination offices would need to know. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that a rescue attempt would be made.
(m) Acoustic and other devices
Technical defensive measures include the use of a long-range acoustic device, in which piezoelectric transducers generate a beam of sound with an intensity of up to 150 Db, which is intolerable to the unprotected human ear. Such devices are installed on some cruise ships and warships. However, such a device should not be relied on exclusively, as its effect can be reduced by the use of industrial hearing protectors. A further factor is that anyone aiming such a device at an approaching pirate craft would be exposed to incoming fire. And unless there are several such systems and trained operators on board, a crew would not be able to respond to multiple, simultane¬ous attacks. There have been reports of operators of such a system being shot at and injured. Some form of protection for an operator would be desirable—as a minimum, a bullet-proof jacket and a suitable helmet, or a protected operating position, although neither would be adequate if rocket-propelled gre¬nades were being used by pirates. Other non-lethal stand-off weapons are planned, including a device which fires bursts of beamed millimetre waves over a distance of 500 metres, gen¬erating heat of 130º Fahrenheit (54º Centigrade), and which is under development for the US armed forces. Another stand¬off device, roughly equivalent to a tyre-bursting method used on land by law enforcement officers to stop motor vehicles, involves firing a net, said to be capable of entangling a small boat‘s propeller.
(n) Aerial reconnaissance
There are also some exotic, high-technology systems that may be available to a determined owner, such as miniature unmanned aerial vehicles („UAVs“ or drones) which could in theory com¬plement radar in the detection of surface craft. Additionally, UAVs could be used to inspect potentially hostile craft from a distance. However, equipment of this nature would be expen¬sive and would call for the employment of trained operators. Civilian UAVs are of varying degrees of sophistication, and can be configured for a variety of roles. Their limitations include a relatively short range and endurance, and, in a marine context, the difficulty of retrieval. Also theoretically possible would be the use of a towed sonar array, to detect craft approaching from astern, particularly at night. However, considerations of vessel speed, length of tow wire, with associated problems of use in congested areas, and the need for specialist operators, make such a system impractical for a merchant vessel.
(o) Solid state radar
More practical would be the use of commercially-available solid state radar equipment incorporating pulse Doppler signal processing technology, and claimed to be capable of detecting small, high-speed craft in all weather conditions, and at far
greater distance than traditional radar. And recently-developed, 3-dimensional, Holographic Radar, which continuously tracks targets, would be particularly suited to resolving an object‘s motion at fine scale and against background clutter The inten¬tion in using any such equipment on a merchant vessel would be to increase the chances of detecting a potential attack at an early stage, so that personnel could be alerted and suitable defensive measures adopted. Reports of successful hijackings suggest that some incidents last no more than about 10 to 20 minutes from when hostile or suspicious activity is noted. The greater the warning, the greater the ability of a target vessel to be ready and for naval forces to respond.
(p) Information security
A further area where some precautions can be taken is in rela¬tion to the dissemination of information about a vessel‘s itiner¬ary. In the early days, it had seemed that attacks by pirates off Somalia were all opportunistic, with pirates congregating at sea in likely places—usually masquerading as fishermen—ready to move against any vulnerable-looking vessel that sailed nearby. Subsequently, there were reports that some pirates were op¬erating radar to track vessels. These were mainly radar units that were already fitted to fishing vessels and to small cargo vessels that pirates had previously captured, and which they were using as mother-ships from which to launch attacks many miles off-shore. In addition, pirates are known to use satellite communication systems and GPS devices in co-ordinating at¬tacks. There have also been reports that at least some groups of pirates have informers in key ports where vessels load cargo for transit through the Gulf of Aden. For example, there have been specific claims in relation to ports in Dubai, Kenya, Yemen and Sri Lanka, among other places; and the variety of hijack¬ings would suggest that there may also be informers in other countries and at choke points such as the Suez Canal. The conclusion is that owners should be careful to provide informa¬tion about cargoes, sailing times, routes and destinations, only on a „need to know“ basis. Of course, this will often conflict with business development plans, but at least attention should be paid when giving out information.
(q) Electronic surveillance systems
Both for the crew‘s use if they retreat to a citadel, and also for the purpose of gathering and recording evidence, a ship securi¬ty plan could include the installation of a covert, closed-circuit camera system, which would complement any existing, vis¬ible system. A covert audio-visual system, remotely controlled from a citadel, would enable the Master and the ship‘s security officer to monitor the activity of pirates once they had boarded. Vital information, including live pictures, could then be passed to any naval forces in the area, to facilitate a rescue. Also, close contact could be maintained with the owners and managers, which would be of enormous help for many reasons, including responding to any ransom demand and (within limits of opera¬tional security) keeping families informed of developments.
(r) Security guards, and the use of firearms
Some shipowners employ independent, unarmed, security guards on certain vessels. There is no doubt that well-trained security guards of mature outlook can perform a useful service in the event of an emergency. However, despite calls, mainly by some US politicians and military personnel, for merchant
vessels to be entirely responsible for their own protection against piracy; and the support for this idea given by some civil¬ian security organisations; the overwhelming view in the ship¬ping industry is that merchant vessels should not be armed. The arguments against arming personnel on board merchant vessels—particularly against arming crew members—are many and convincing, and include legal constraints, insurance con¬siderations, and the increased risk to crew. Moreover, there is an understandable and serious concern that an attempt, by the use of light firearms, to repel a pirate attack, would be likely to lead to an escalation of a conflict. The pirates operating off Somalia are usually armed not only with automatic assault rifles such as the AK-47 or a derivative, but also with shoulder¬launched anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades, or „RPG“s); and some craft are equipped with mounted machine¬guns. Pirates conducting a co-ordinated attack with several skiffs are highly likely to be able to score numerous hits on a merchant vessel if allowed to approach sufficiently close. If they were to unleash a volley of RPGs, instead of one or two for effect, a ship could be seriously damaged—particularly if the cargo were volatile—and those on board would be at risk of serious injury or death.
(3) Prepared Responses to an Attack or Hijacking
If precautions have been taken along the lines set out above, there are excellent prospects that any attack by pirates will be unsuccessful, and that a hijacking will not occur. Even better, an attack may be avoided altogether. However, a determined attack may succeed, particularly if co-ordinated between sev¬eral skiffs, and if naval support cannot reach the area in time. In this connection it is worth noting that a key feature of naval support is the use of armed helicopters to make initial contact with attacking pirates. Travelling at around 250-300 kph, or about five or six times the speed of its mother-ship, a military helicopter which is already in the air when an alarm is received, or is on quick-reaction standby, would be likely to reach the scene of an attack in time to intervene, if within a range of per¬haps 60-100 kilometres or more. However, several helicopters sent to the scenes of attacks off Somalia have arrived just too late, and have been unable to help. This illustrates how impor¬tant it is to maintain a good look-out; to give prompt notice of suspicious activity or an attack; and to use defensive measures to delay an attack as long as possible.
(a) Ship security plan
The anti-piracy security plan, drawn up well in advance of a vessel reaching an area of danger, will inform the Master and the ship‘s security officer of exactly what action they should take to maximise the prospect of a safe outcome for ship and crew. Among the initial steps to be taken will be sounding the alarm and piracy alert message to warn all crew members; reporting the situation to the UKMTO Dubai naval coordina¬tion office; activating the Ship Security Alert System to notify the Company Security Officer and the flag state; ensuring that the AIS is active (so that response units will be guided to the location); making a Mayday call on VHF Channel 16 (with Channel 08 as a backup, which naval units also monitor); sending a distress message through either the Digital Selective Calling system or Immarsat-C; and speaking with UKMTO by
(b) Other action by ship and crew
Meanwhile, the Master will have put the vessel at her maxi¬mum safe speed, and will have instructed the helmsman to un¬dertake small zigzag manoeuvres to deter boarding; and to the crew—who will have rehearsed their roles during anti-piracy drills—will perform their allotted tasks, manning fire-hoses, etc, taking account of the particular circumstances of an attack. Something to bear in mind, on which the crew will already have been instructed, is that pirates in a co-ordinated attack involving several skiffs may adopt distracting manoeuvres, in order to approach a vessel at an unprotected point.
(c) In the event of pirates boarding
If, despite the crew‘s prudent efforts to prevent pirates from boarding, the pirates succeed in getting on board, the Master and crew should by then have retreated to the citadel. The master will have first alerted UKMTO and, if possible, the own¬ers or managers, and will have stopped the main engine. If there is no citadel, or if there is insufficient time for everyone to get inside, then the pirates will have succeeded in taking control of the vessel, and the crew will become hostages. If some of the crew have retreated to a place of relative safety but others have been captured, the pirates are likely to use threats against those they hold, to force the remaining crew to submit. The strong advice in such a situation, or if the pirates have cap¬tured the whole crew, is that no resistance should be offered.
(d) As a hostage: the good news
The overwhelming consensus among persons and authorities best placed to advise what to do if you become a hostage in a situation such as we are considering, is that you should stay calm and co-operate with your captors. An important factor in Somali pirate hijacking incidents—as distinct from the hijack¬ing of an aircraft—is that the pirates‘ motivation is to obtain a large ransom payment. To achieve this, it is in their interests to ensure the safety of the ship, crew, and cargo; whereas persons hijacking an aircraft may well be terrorists, in which case they are likely to have an entirely different agenda. Accordingly, there is a very high expectation that if you are on a ship which is hijacked by Somali-based pirates, you will survive and (after whatever time it takes) you will eventually be released. That is an important consideration, as it should encourage you to adopt an appropriate and positive state of mind, which will minimise the effect of your ordeal and may enable you to help colleagues who have reacted less well.
(e) As a hostage: the not so good news
No-one in their right mind would wish to be taken hostage, even by the relatively benign pirates of Somalia. You will prob¬ably be held on board your vessel (which will be moved to So¬mali waters), in cramped and uncomfortable conditions, with inadequate food and water; with primitive hygiene arrange¬ments; with little ability to exercise; and fearful of provoking violence from your captors, who are liable to act irrationally, particularly when affected by the drug khat (otherwise, quat or qat) which many of them take as a stimulant. You will also be worrying about your family and friends, and could eas
(f) Attitude towards captors
As your captors will be armed, and at least some will be tense, and as the safety of each crew member will depend partly on the conduct of the others, you should avoid confrontations with your captors and should comply with their instructions. This is not the place for individual and irrational acts of attempted heroism. Rather, you should seek to ease the tension, and gain some advantages for all, by trying to establish friendship and a degree of trust with your captors. Even small concessions will be welcome and useful. There may, of course, be a language problem, although among the pirates will be those who speak at least some English.
(g) Ransoms payments: the case against
The topic of ransom payments raises a number of practical and moral issues (quite apart from potential legal issues, which are not addressed here). When considered from a moral view¬point, there is overwhelming support for not paying ransoms to pirates. Payment will enrich the pirates, so they can afford to continue to commit acts of piracy, and it will provide a positive encouragement for them and others to do so. With any ransom money that they receive they can acquire ever more powerful and more dangerous weapons, and they can purchase sophis¬ticated technology to help them carry out further attacks. On land, an increase in successful piracy attacks will lead to pirates becoming independently wealthy and therefore achieving a higher social status within their province. Making the pirates more powerful than the embattled government is liable to feed corruption. In the long term, the encouragement of further at¬tacks will mean that more crew members will be endangered, which stands in direct contrast to the argument that paying ransom preserves the personal safety of crews. And the crew onboard are not the only persons at risk. People involved in the physical transfer of ransom funds to the pirates are placing themselves in grave personal danger, despite their training and the precautions they take.
(h) Ransom payments: the case for
Payment of ransoms can normally be expected to bring about a swift resolution to a desperate situation which, most impor¬tantly, has the effect of minimising the physical and emotional strain on crew members and their families. The Somali pirates have made no secret of their willingness to use crew members as human shields in order to obtain and maintain control of ships, and they have from time to time made specific threats to kill European crew members following incidents involving the arrest and detention of fellow pirates. From a commercial viewpoint, the payment of a ransom ensures that a hijacked vessel can be returned to normal service as soon as possible, causing a minimal disruption to the owner‘s trade and, in turn, world trade, which is of particular significance in the current world-wide economic crisis. There are few alternatives to the payment of a ransom once a ship has been attacked and its crew have been taken hostage. A held ship cannot generally rely on assistance from naval forces. Finally, the payment of a large ransom ensures that the issue of piracy continues to be
(i) Hostage negotiations
The conduct of negotiations with the pirates is best left to a professional and experienced kidnap and ransom consultant, preferably one with whom an owner‘s lawyer has a good work¬ing relationship. There are many factors to be taken into ac¬count during such negotiations—too numerous to deal with here—but an overriding consideration is that the most impor¬tant result to achieve is the release of the crew, and that with every day of captivity they and their families will suffer an in¬creased burden. Some crew members may be badly affected by their experience, particularly if a lack of trust develops be¬tween the captors and the negotiator and owners. Some ne¬gotiations have been extended by unhelpful attitudes adopted by one party or another, or by disputes between various sets of underwriters, or by some external event. On the other hand, in some negotiations everyone co-operates and an early and satisfactory result can be achieved.
During and after a hijacking incident an owner will have many matters to attend to. At every stage there will be legal issues which need to be resolved. There will be a need to control information that is given to the press, to avoid unhelpful in¬teraction with the negotiating process. And particular atten¬tion must be paid to the families of captive crew members, not overlooking their financial needs. Naturally, another important subject is the health of crew members after their release, and making sure that they receive any necessary medical attention, and possibly counselling.
There are numerous facets to piracy at sea, which cannot all be covered in an article such as this. Discussion of preventative measures is also covered in the recently revised „Best Manage¬ment Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia“, dated 21 August 2009. Those practices are supported by many international shipping industry representa¬tives and by MSCHOA, UKMTO Dubai, and MARLO.
The earlier sections of the present article summarise the key features of practical aspects of tackling piracy at sea, particular¬ly off Somalia, from the perspective of the owner of a merchant vessel. The nature of piracy attacks is constantly evolving, and Somali pirates have shown an ability to adapt to changing situa¬tions. A key consideration for many owners, particularly those with more vulnerable vessels (low speed, low freeboard) and vulnerable cargo, is whether or not to avoid the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden, and to incur the extra expense and delay entailed by deviating around the Cape of Good Hope. How¬ever, the hijacking of vessels in the Indian Ocean has shown that this by itself is not always an adequate solution. Shipown
The author is a consultant at the London head office of Holman Fenwick Willan LLP, who have been instructed in more than 50 per cent of the hijackings that have occurred off Somalia during 2008 and 2009. Further piracy articles by the author can be found at http://www.hfw.com/practices/shipping¬transport/admiralty/piracyandterrorism