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Oil, toil and
Piracy is back, but not in the traditional sense. Swashbuckling Blackbeards brandishing cutlasses have been superseded by ruthless, money-hungry Somali gangs armed with automatic weapons, global positioning systems and satellite phones. With supertankers seen as a prize catch among new-age pirates, can the oil industry ward off potentially deadly and costly attacks or is it merely a sitting duck? By Julian Rogers
n early January of this year a bright red parcel attached to a small parachute glided gently toward the deck of a Saudi supertanker 800 kilometres o the Kenyan coast. Onboard the 330-metre long Sirius Star was a 23-man crew, a gang of armed Somali pirates and two million barrels of oil – a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output. Inside the package was believed to be US$3 million in high denomination bills. Oil giant Saudi Aramco is thought to have paid the ransom to release the supertanker, owned by its shipping arm, and its black gold, bringing an end to a terrifying two-month ordeal for the hostages in what was the world’s biggest ship hijacking. e pirates had demanded US$25 million but eventually settled for a fraction of this, although US$3 million isn’t too bad a pay packet for two months’ ‘work’ in a country as poor and warravaged as Somalia. e hijacking of Sirius Star was the sea bandits’ biggest booty to date and there is a real fear that other fully-laden supertankers could be snared by the pirates in future attacks. Indeed, most attacks are directed at merchant ships connected in some way to the oil industry. Recently, however, annual monsoons have hit the region, curtailing the pirates’ ability to ply their illegal trade, and ship owners are on tenterhooks amid the calm before the real storm, so to speak. “ e whole of the industry is holding its breath waiting for the wind to die down,” warns Nick Davis, a former British army pilot and Chairman of the Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre (MMWC) – a not-for-pro t organisation addressing ship security. “Between late August and December we will see what happens, because we don’t know whether there will be this eerie quiet where nothing or just one or two gets hijacked, or whether we will have three or four ships a week taken.”
e lion’s share of attacks have occurred in the Gulf of Aden o the Somali coast – one of the world’s most important shipping lanes with 20,000 vessels passing through annually. ere are also 2.8 million square kilometres of water in this region alone, meaning shipping companies and their crews have the daunting prospect of trying to react to or predict where and when the pirates strike next. Of course, with the Sirius Star ransom being paid so publicly there is the obvious concern that handing the pirates millions of dollars to relinquish control of a vessel will fuel more attacks and even bigger wallet-busting ransoms. Other young men will see the huge money to be made, round up a gang, arm themselves to the teeth and jump in a boat. Kenya’s foreign minister claimed that up until November 2008 the pirates had received over US$150 million, which can then be ploughed back into purchasing faster boats and increased hardware. “ e big ransom payments have fuelled attacks – there isn’t any real doubt about that,” suggests Roger Middleton, Consultant for the Africa Programme at Chatham House – formerly the Royal Institute of International A airs. “As ransoms go up it becomes a more attractive business for people, but it is a very di cult position for ship owners to be in because who wants to be the rst not to pay a ransom, which impacts on the safety of your crew?” Likewise, Davis is of the opinion that the pay-o s are spiralling out of control. “ e pirates keep pushing, pushing and pushing for as much as they can get and they are quite happy to delay and start again. e industry, the insurance companies and negotiation teams are letting the ransoms get out of
Pay day: Pirates secure their biggest booty to date off the Kenyan coast in January
A patient game: Pirates lie in wait hand, which is making the situation quite nasty because the bigger the ransoms, the more people that want to get involved. And there is no shortage of manpower for them to send out and there can never be enough warships to effectively prevent it.”
ali The Som ches et r coast st
their vessels thousands of kilometres further via South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. On t of this, insurance costs have soared by as top of Af est of any g m much as 100 percent. However, there are more the lontry on the oun c tha a dozen naval forces, as part of the multithan ent. contin natio coalition o ensive (Combined Task Force national Numbers game 150), exing their military muscle and patrolling the ex According to the International Chamber of Commerce’s InternaGulf of Aden in a bid to thwart the pirates. However, this tional Maritime Bureau (IMB), the number of attacks so far this year o asymmetrical warfare has forced the pirates to scour for victims in less Somalia has already surpassed the 2008 total. Last year witnessed 111 policed waters, namely the western Indian Ocean. incidents, with 42 vessels hijacked. Up until mid-May of this year 29 sucIf they can pass under the radar of the multinational naval armada cessful hijackings were recorded from 114 attempted attacks. And while the pirates typically approach a target by speedboat or ski (a shallow, a total of 815 crew members were taken hostage in 2008, this gure stood fast boat), ring on the ship until the captain submits and allows them at 478 by the middle of May this year. “ ese guys have found a busito board by means of grapple hooks and rope ladders. Some pirate gangs ness model that makes a lot more money than their traditional shing industry, and I mean a lot,” remarks Jeroen Meijer, a security consultant for threat and safety advisors Control Risks and former o cer in the Royal Netherlands Navy. “Keeping that business model intact is crucial, so they constantly adapt their modus operandi. We saw them operating in the Gulf of Aden, o the coast of Mogadishu [Somalia’s capital] and we have seen them going into the Red Sea and Omani waters. So they are constantly adapting where they operate to minimise are particularly well-equipped for the job in hand, says Middleton. “ ey the threat to their operations.” are generally armed with AK47s, and sometimes RPGs (rocket-propelled A knock-on e ect of the piracy has been a sharp rise in shipping grenades), while their boats generally have outboard Yamaha engines costs as some shipping rms choose to avoid the Suez Canal and navigate and they may have GPS and satellite phones.”
th aroundica and is r
M 3000KHorn e
“Somalia is a completely failed state with no political structure to speak of and there is no law enforcement capability so these gangs operate with total impunity” Jeroen Meijer, Control Risks
Where the pirates have struck in 2008/09
Gulf of aden
2008 attacks 2009 attacks 500 0
f IGHTING BACK
How ship owners can protect their cargo and crews
One deterrent is a long range acoustic device (LRAD), which is simply a satellite dish hooked up to a humble MP3 player. The LRAD, which has a range of around 1000 metres, ﬁres out high-pitched messages or sirens to warn pirates that they have been spotted. In fact, this piece of kit can reach excruciatingly painful levels if the pirates get too close. ing ng g More simple but effective measures include attaching pts t t barbed wire to the boat to hamper pirates’ attempts to pow o clamber aboard. Some vessels are also ﬁtted with po erful powerful near, a hoses used for blasting anyone who gets anywhere near,
but some ship owners have taken a more hard line approach by providing machine guns. Austri company Schiebel has developed an unmanned helicopter Aus Austrian tted w ﬁtted with advanced sensors to alert crews of advancing maritime ga gs s. gangs. The three-metre long Camcopter S-100 can be ﬂown by remote ontro ntrol ntro control or by pre-programmed GPS waypoints. This ‘eye in the sky’ can ﬂy up ﬂy u to 120 knots powered by a 55hp rotary engine. me sugge The most effective and practical measure, maritime experts suggest, is hip’s dde p’s d ha hav a to sail at a speed exceeding 25 knots, pull up the ship’s ladder and have a high freeboard.
In a similar fashion to how burglars seek to target the house on the street with the weakest security, the sea bandits go a er the ships that are easiest to board and take control. ose vessels capable of 25 knots are generally too fast for the pirates but boats sailing at around 14 knots and with a freeboard ve metres or less in height are deemed easy prey. Ship owners are doing their best to ward o potential attacks by installing barbed wire and ring onboard water canons should the assailants venture too close, while deck patrols and ‘lookouts’ have also been ramped up. “You only have a short time to prevent these pirates from boarding and taking control of the ships,” explains Dr Mustafa Alani, Director of the Terrorism and Security department at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre. “Once they have control then you Capture and arrest is an occupational hazard for the pirates have hostages and you have to deal with the situation completely di erently.” Dr Alani argues that ship owners either A continuing lawless atmosphere in the country has magni ed the need to station troops onboard or you allow the civilian crew to be armed problem. “Somalia being a lawless state with a free and open coastline and trained in how to repel attackers. that no one is able and willing to defend is 100 percent the reason why “However, there is always this giant ‘but’,” says Davis, “You are dealthe pirates can get away with it,” Davis notes. is sentiment is echoed by ing with intelligent opponents who have gured out a number of ways Meijer: “Somalia is a completely failed state with no political structure in which they can very successfully board a vessel.” Davis says the crews to speak of and there is no law enforcement capability so these gangs who wind up getting hijacked invariably have little or no understanding operate with total impunity. ose who live on the coast see the wealth of the threats and have been given no training in how to defend their vesof the world sailing by everyday, so in an extremely benign maritime sels. However, there are certain measures crews can take to make it nigh environment where you can operate with a small boat for very little cost on impossible for pirates to get on board, he reveals [see opposite]. He is and together with a Kalashnikov and an RPG, you are able to hijack these also concerned with the fact that ship owners are riches on your doorstep.” deploying a mishmash of anti-piracy measures It also appears that money is the sole instead of adopting a standardised approach. “We factor behind the pirates’ determinahave such a divide across the world,” he notes. tion, with no link uncovered between “For instance, the Americans are putting arms the attacks and organised terrorism, say on everything, which is not very helpful and will the experts. “ ere is absolutely none,” lead to all sorts of problems because the ultimate reveals Dr Alani. “On the contrary, we authority on that ship should be the master. He get information that the pirates fear is still liable, irrespective of who pulls the trigger the extreme Islamists who see them as and I know a lot of masters who are very uncomthieves.” Indeed, there is a preconcepfortable with the arms issue and civilian guards.” tion that most Somalis support the pirate gangs, but being a majority Muslim state, Root causes most of the population are vehemently So can piracy be stopped on land? Experts opposed to the and hijackings. On the are in agreement that the failed state of Somalia other hand, chunks of the bandits’ illis a perfect breeding ground for piracy, while a lack of law means the pigotten gains are pumped back into the local economy which rejuvenates rates can hijack vessels with impunity. Piracy rst became a problem in poor villages, although a ipside of this cash injection is rising in ation the region at the outbreak of Somalia’s civil war in the early 1990s, when for ordinary Somalis. All in all, this situation won’t be changing very soon the government was overthrown. As the war raged, and with no Somali unless action is taken on land in Somalia to stamp out this menace. And coastguard, foreign shermen were accused of plundering the country’s with the monsoon weather subsiding soon, the coming months will be an sh stocks, so Somalis took to the seas to protect their livelihoods. It was extremely testing time for the maritime industry. “ roughout history then that they realised there was some serious money to be made from piracy has been an issue and it will never be completely stamped out – this hijacking ships and demanding ransoms. is an illusion,” states a philosophical Meijer.
“You are dealing with intelligent opponents who have gured out a number of ways in which they can very successfully board a vessel” Nick Davis, MMWC
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