Pirate attacks keep growing as pirates become more resourceful, says Neptune Maritime Security
The answer to piracy is to be found at land said David Rider, Communications & Intelligence Officer with Neptune Maritime Security, in an interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide. Although he states that, so far, no vessel with armed guards on board has been successfully hijacked, and that should say something, indeed the long-term solution to the problem of piracy is through a better education of Somalis and through a better organized state, something which Somalia has been lacking for two decades now. Neptune Maritime Security is an international maritime security firm, operating in all dangerous seas around the world.
The question on everyone’s lips these days is, why is modern piracy so hard to stop? Is it true that everyone stands to gain from piracy, except the ship owners themselves? Could you tell us your view on the subject?
The unfortunate reality is that Somalia has lacked a central leadership for two decades, and the rise in piracy simply reflects the absence of law and order within the country and, as a result, making progress at a national level takes time. But the semi-autonomous regions, such as Puntland and Somaliland, are now making significant moves in tackling piracy, with the reformation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force and the agreement by Somliland to recognise piracy as a crime and to jail captured pirates.
As to who stands to gain from piracy well, first and foremost, the pirates. It’s a risk and reward business with a fairly low entry cost for the pirates and potentially a huge payout. Clearly, the ship owners suffer the most in terms of potential loss of vessel and cargo but let’s not forget the crew, who in many instances are tortured and held in the most squalid of conditions by their captors.
It’s also true that the maritime security sector has seen a large increase in the number of companies offering protective services to the shipping industry. Quite how many of those companies last the distance, especially once accreditation and vetting in the UK come in to force later this year, is another question.
Despite international efforts, we’ve seen that the number of attacks on vessels are increasing in various regions around the world, not only in the Gulf of Aden. Why is that?
The international naval force in the Arabian Sea (EU NAVFOR’s Operation Atalanta and NATO’s Ocean Shield) still has to patrol an area the size of Europe with fewer than 30 vessels. Those are the sort of odds pirates like, because the chances of early interdiction have always been small. Although now naval vessels are targeting Pirate Action Groups and motherships as soon as they see them, which has made life tougher for the pirates.
Ships have always made relatively easy targets for criminals; be they at anchor or on the move and vessel security traditionally hasn’t really been factored in. If I had $100 million in cash to transport, I would probably employ a private army to ensure it reached its destination. However, the industry happily ships crude oil worth that kind of figure around the world without any serious forms of deterrent of protection. Criminals have worked that out and are taking advantage of an overall lack of security in the shipping industry as a result, from cargo thefts to Somali pirates capturing vessels for ransom and even Nigerian bandits stealing oil and petroleum cargoes in the Gulf of Guinea.
Which would say are the current piracy hot-spots that ships should be careful?
Presently, the High Risk Area extends from the East African coast right across to the West coast of India and, as such, should always be considered dangerous. However, since the end of February we have seen a large increase in the number of approaches and attacks off the coast of Oman in the North Arabian Sea. This area and the region to the NE of the IRTC are certainly places where all precautions should be taken and BMP4 fully enforced. Likewise, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a thorn in the side of the oil and shipping industries. Neptune Maritime Security issued an advisory report to that effect back in August of 2011, and things have continued to worsen since then.
We’ve seen that pirates have been quite resourceful and flexible in terms of adopting new tactics. How have they evolved over time, especially after an increase of navy patrols?
The pirates have made use of technology as it’s become available to them. We know they monitor VHF broadcasts, for example, to find appropriate targets at sea. There have even been reports of pirates using AIS to locate vessels. From a tactics point of view, the last 12 months has seen pirates attempt to swarm vessels in the Southern Red Sea and Bab Al Mandeb Strait to overwhelm them. As the monsoon ended earlier this year, we received credible reports that pirate gangs, traditionally based on clan backgrounds, were joining together to attack in larger numbers.
They hijack fishing dhows to use them as motherships in an attempt to trick naval and merchant vessels into thinking they’re innocent fishermen, and we know that pirate skiffs like to lurk around genuine fishing boats in order to mount surprise attacks. Their attempts to take merchant vessels back out to sea from Somalia to operate as motherships have thankfully failed, due to the presence of the international naval force.
I think the most surprising and worrying development was the hijacking of the MV Fairchem Bogey, purely because it was at anchor off Oman and took significant planning by the pirates to pull off.
With so few successful attacks in the last few months, pirates have evolved their business to incorporate land-based kidnappings, and currently still hold a British citizen, Judith Tebbut and an American, Michael Scott Moore, hostage.
Which types of ships are the pirates’ favorites?
The greater the value of the vessel and its cargo, the more attractive it becomes to pirates. Tankers are the obvious target; those valuable cargoes and ships make them top of the hit list, with VLCCs being the biggest prize. Vessels with low freeboards are also a high value target. The easier it is for pirates to board, the greater the chance of a successful hijacking. Fishing dhows, which can then be used as pirate motherships, are an obvious choice, as are smaller cargo vessels for the same reason.
But more importantly, pirates are deliberately targeting vessels which don’t have armed security teams onboard, and that should be of concern to the whole industry. Whilst the risk of being pirated remains relatively low, the fact is that if you don’t have a clear deterrent such as armed guards in place, the risk becomes significantly greater.
What services does your company offer to ship owners?
Neptune Maritime Security offers armed Vessel Protection Teams and maritime consultancy services to the commercial shipping industry, and have a great deal of experience within the world of maritime security and counter-piracy.
In which areas around the world are you able to provide protection?
Currently, we operate in and around the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, East Africa, the Indian Ocean, West Africa and South China Sea, and have all the necessary licenses and paperwork to allow us to offer armed protective services in these regions.
Do you believe that ships with armed protection will be the answer to piracy?
No, we don’t. We believe that we’re the best deterrent currently available, and the figures prove that; to date, no vessel with an armed security team has been successfully hijacked. The solution to Somali piracy will only ever be found on land. It’s going to take significant international investment and a great deal of cultural sensitivity to solve the problem. Somalis need opportunity, employment and hope in order to rebuild their country and, as a clan-based society, it will not be an easy or quick fix.
What steps should be taken, in terms of rules of engagement, in order to prevent fatal accidents, like the one which happened recently in India?
The British government has appointed an organization called the Security in Complex Environments Group (SCEG) to facilitate and manage accreditation for the security industry in the UK. This is the first step; by introducing strict controls, the cowboys can be weeded out of the industry.
As the incident with the Enrica Lexie shows, tragedies can happen, but we’re confident that the Rules of Engagement and escalation in the use of force as laid down by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and SOLAS are very clear. Our operatives are all highly trained former members of British military branches such as the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service. They are the best at what they do and that highly professional approach means the margin for error is greatly reduced and, once onboard, all of our teams understand that the vessel’s Master is in charge.
Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the incident with the Italian Naval guards onboard the Enrica Lexie are still being investigated, but as a company, we are confident that if operatives follow standard operational procedures, the risk of an accident is greatly mitigated. Whether the international community can come together and agree new Rules of Force is another matter entirely.
Until then, our teams will continue to offer their elite services protecting crew, cargo and corporate reputation, and ensure the safety of everyone onboard.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide