Maritime Piracy

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Piracy is again on top of the talks in marine industry. More than a couple of years back I had written about the piracy issues in many publications. It was a serious issue then, and it continues to be a serious issue even now. Every one seems to be reading those matters but the response is too light to such serious issues. When they gather they are too loud in speaking about the piracy and why no one is taking an action to curb such an important issue. Once the gathering is over, none remembers to take it further. Some of the major ‘in-themes’ the seafarers have thus voiced in those social gatherings regarding the increase in ship attacks can be summed as below.
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Increase in unregistered ‘mother vessels’ Lack of action from National Authorities Lack of action from ship owners and ship managers Lack of action from International Agencies

All of them are resulting in hesitance and even withdrawal of many seafarers joining ships that are plying in piracy infected area. As it is there is shortage of good marine officers and crew. This security issue just adds more misery to the shipping companies in trying to keep their ships running. Ransom figures are mind boggling and ships continue to be at risk. Statistics shows that there is almost one attack per day now compared to ‘one in a month’ during ‘50s. Basically the authorities are not keeping silent. But the actions are not penetrating to the actual scenes. I can see many strong waves that are being generated in shipping circles to counter piracy. However, real controls that will guarantee safe sailing for a seafarer are still not very visible. In a recent discussion among parties of International Bargaining Forum – IBF, a number of points are agreed upon for vessels trading in Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and North Indian Ocean regions. They, in agreement with ITF, have redefined the piracy high risk zone to cover a larger area. This will be effective from 1st of April 2011. Nautilus International and UK authorities have also extended their high risk area.

While transiting in this extended high risk zone, vessels are expected to take increased security measures than what is prescribed in the Best Management Practices - BMP. While the agreement discusses about doubling the compensation for causality, more emphasis is laid on ships following the BMP and even mandating BMP by all States. Mandating could provide better safety to the ships since many investigations conducted with vessels attacked by pirates clearly showed that they were not effectively using BMP guidelines. A couple of week’s back, IMO Secretary General mentioned that only 40% of vessels are complying with BMP, though marine industry strongly feel that the actual figure is around 20%. On the action side, some maritime nations have deployed their national defence units such as Navy and Military forces to deal with pirates. India witnessed higher rate of piracy invasion in the past one year as pirates extended their operation to Indian waters. Indian navy is successfully dealing with them. So far they have captured more than 100 pirates who are presently being dealt through legality at Mumbai court. Further actions are that “the Cabinet Committee on Security has cleared new ‘rules of engagement (RoE)’ and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Indian warships to take the battle to the pirates in a far more aggressive manner than before, which even includes storming of hijacked merchant vessels of Indian origin.

Indian government has also decided to allow armed guards, akin to sky marshals, deployed on civil airliners, on Indian merchant vessels to keep the sea brigands at bay. Steps are underway to amend the Indian Penal Code to include a specific anti-piracy law, with the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), after pirates began to operate nearer Indian shores far away from their bases in Somalia.”
On the international scenario there are plenty of suggested solutions from many piracy experts, equipment manufacturers and from security forums. use of new security devices 2. use of armed security guards on the ships 3. providing more training to the crew to combat pirates
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providing higher and better communication systems to ships and, 5. looking for alternate navigation routes etc, etc, ………
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All of them are going to be expensive and merely short term solutions. Catching a thief is one thing, and making them pay for their action is yet another story. It is reported that almost 80% of the pirates caught are released without any punishment. What about international legal instruments? Recent research from North Carolina State University shows that the tangled network of international laws may actually be helping pirates escape justice. Every one agrees that piracy is expensive for ship owners, ship operators, seafarers and it can even affect national economy. All of the actions and suggestions that are promulgated now are only actions just to deter and distract the pirates. Ironically, no one talks about the root cause and no one comes with a remedy to wipe out piracy from its very origin. World politics is keeping a blind eye to such a crisis generating lethargy to the entire system. This inaction need to be converted to actions immediately. That needs consolidated movement from all players in the industry. The ‘people force’ must come forward and force the authorities to find a permanent solution to this world crisis, before it reaches still higher explosive levels. J K M Nair