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The continuing threat to shipping and cargo from acts of piracy

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 | 00:00
It is with grave concern that the European Shippers' Council (ESC) views the continuing problem of piracy affecting cargo ships.Representing shippers in Europe, many of whom use shipping to transport their cargo through the high risk areas, a year on from our last press statement on this issue, the ESC remains alarmed by the latest figures released by the ICC's International Maritime Bureau. Although figures show a decreasing number of piracy attacks, the damage done is still unacceptably high.
Already, in the first month of 2012 there have been 37 reported attacks on shipping and 2 hijackings. In 2011 there were over 420 attacks, and 42 hijackings. Somalian pirates remain responsible for a large number of these incidents, and are believed currently to be holding some 150 hostages from 10 ships. These are shocking figures for the 21st Century.
There is considerable sympathy among ESC's members for the ship operators and their crews, who are facing this added peril at sea. It is understandable that many must feel they have to take avoiding action in order to protect themselves. Nevertheless, we feel there is growing evidence that a robust defence and protection of shipping and major shipping channels by various government armed forces is helping to reduce the number of attacks1.
The decision taken last year by the members of the European Union to extend the remit of the EUNAVFOR until December 20122 was welcomed by ESC; indeed we would like to see that remit extended indefinitely while the risks to shipping remain.
ESC also supports other measures which the industry itself can implement, such as staying within the Internationally Recommended Transit corridor (IRTC) and the correct implementation of the acknowledged 'best management practices', where naval and military forces can focus their resources to better protect shipping passing through the trouble-spots. Further such corridors should be considered where the level of incidents and the significance of the sea-corridor determine a need.
But shipping cannot always stay within such defended corridors and must deviate from them to call at ports. Nevertheless, the practice of sailing at or above 18 knots has been recognised as a good measure to take: the attackers seemingly find it difficult to catch vessels sailing at this speed. There are also vessel design features that can help deter attack, such as high freeboards and removing any features from the sides of the vessel that might aid boarding by pirates while at sea.
Defensive measures such as pressurised launchers and the use of citadels or safe muster points are also being used; but these are last resorts; they are not solutions. ESC believes the best way to defend shipping, the crews and the cargo is through continued and where necessary, increased protection from naval forces under the command of NATO (Operation Ocean Shield (OOS) is an example to protect ships off the Horn of Africa) and EUNAVFOR, fully complemented by resources (ships and armed forces) of national governments with shipping and trade interests in the regions affected.
Given the risks to the lives of seafarers from acts of piracy, it might appear trite to raise concerns over the economic consequences of the situation and remedial actions being proposed by some operators in this matter. Nevertheless, it is ESC's responsibility to its members to raise their concerns and bring them clearly to the attention of the shipping industry and governments around the world.
ESC finds it unacceptable that such violent activities continue to cause disruption to international trade.
There is growing support from within the shipping sector and among some governments for armed defence by the ships' crews themselves or through the employment of private armed guards. Indeed this is now part of the Best Management Practice produced by the NATO Shipping Centre for implementing Ship Protection Measures. Again, this is understandable but not, in ESC's opinion, the answer; it may lead to further problems of liability, and escalate the level of violence exhibited by the pirates. The safety of the crew is paramount. Cargo owners, however also have the right to expect measures to be taken that protect their cargo and not place it in greater jeopardy, whilst not compromising the safety of the ship and crew.
Threats of an industry-backed boycott of certain high risk regions, as has been mooted by some shipping interests (e.g. BIMCO) in the recent past, and of re-routing vessels around Good Hope, could have an enormous impact on supply chains and therefore on the overall economy. Companies are by necessity focused on cost reduction within their supply chains, efficiency enhancements, productivity increases, greater flexibility and agility in their supply chains. The proposal to divert all shipping away from the affected areas, via the Cape of Good Hope, would represent a significant cost on business from increased freight rates and extended supply chains, inventory costs and lead times. The potential seriousness of the situation is not lost on ESC, and posturing among those most at danger is sometimes required to gain the full attention of governments and encourage them to act. But such measures in themselves represent a big risk to global trade and national economic growth.
ESC's Chairman of the Maritime Transport Council, Jean-Louis Cambon, has said on the matter, "The ESC believes that the protection of shipping from piracy - regardless of flag, or the nationality of the crew - is a clear and legitimate responsibility for governments under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The European Shippers' Council urges governments around the world to uphold their responsibilities in the enforcement of the Convention, protection of their flags, and to cooperate and assist together fully in protecting all merchant shipping in their territorial waters".
He concluded, "The impacts of piracy are not just on the seafarers; they are not just local; they are global."
Source: European Shippers Council
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