Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Clear and Present Danger to the Life at Sea

The rampant incident of piracy at the Gulf of Aden and the South African Horn has posed continuous dangers to the lives of the Seafarers on board merchants’ ship plying the route for the past years. It has already become a pandemic issue hurting the shipping industry, in general. With the ships and her crew onboard together with her cargo being hostage and asking, the Ship Owners to pay huge amount of ransom for their safe release has become a lucrative business. 
The ransom money gains from their hostage activities far outweigh, the penalty imposed on them when the pirates are captured.While Shipping lines continue to adopt the Best Management Practices prior to transit, during transit and post transit, sometimes it is not enough because the pirates now are able to acquire more sophisticated navigational equipment, and fast crafts pirates boats.
All ships plying the route are vulnerable to the dangers of piracy. The Maritime Council of South Africa last February 2009 has defined the critical areas for transit and the vessels were encouraged to report their positions to them before transit so that they are included in the monitoring while transiting the defined critical zone.
From Intertanko we note, “The use of armed guards on merchant vessels was discussed at the 89th session of the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in May 2011. Interim guidelines on the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk piracy area off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean was approved.”  Because of this development, some companies already utilized their services, hoping that the ship and the crew will have a safer transit as an additional security measure on top of the existing one adopted on board. 
During the time, that hubby was in a feeder vessel frequently plying the pirate prone route in the Gulf every week; it was an ordeal monitoring their transit through the internet. I cannot forget the longest two hours of my life, when I saw the vessel not moving for an hour. My heart was pounding; I was sweating cold, he was not replying to my SMS sent an hour ago.  For a vessel to be stationary while in transit simply meant two things they are having engine problems or the pirates held them hostage. After an hour more of waiting, I called the ship’s satellite and the Second Officer replied that he was at the Bridge wing, maneuvering the vessel‘s position to pick up the Russian Navy seal escort. That was the first time that they have the Navy escort on board armed with high-powered combat weapons. It was a safe transit then. Usually, they join the group transit and coordinating with the naval escort assigned in the area.  If they finish their port operations off schedule with the group transit, they have to anchor and wait for the schedule of the next available group transit. They also observed the Best Management practices as a passive defense, a round the clock pirate watch, and exercise extra caution and care during every transit.
Visiting Japanese Naval Escort in Djibouti 
From Wiki, based on a quick browse of the vessels’ particulars held in captivity during their transit at the Gulf of Aden, coast of Somalia and wider Indian Ocean hereunder, are my analysis-opinion of the contributing factors that made them a soft target to pirate attack:
1.) The vessel has low free board that makes it easy for the pirates to come up on deck.
2.) They transit at slow speed. Vessels’ with less than 20 knots are at high risk. Please note the car ship Asian Glory can run at a max. Speed of 18knots. However, she was attack successfully.
3.) They were unable to execute the full evasive zigzag manoeuvres because of speed constraints.
4.) They do not have the coils of razored barbed wire in their railings that could have been an added deterrent.
5.) They do not join the group transit, so that at least they will get the benefit of the principle of security in number.
6.) There was an oversight in the implementation of the Principles of Best Management Practices prior and during transit.
7.) The assigned naval escorts in the region were not aware of their transit.
8.) They do not coordinate with the Maritime Security Council in the area.
9.) They breached the safety warnings and sailed in the defined critical zone.
Even the cruise ships are vulnerable to pirate attacks too. Some of them have already cancelled their trade for fear of abduction, while those that continue have added coils of razored barbed wires at the vessels’ aft.  The cargo vessel that docks behind us in Baltimore, USA had the barbed wires installed in the deck railings around the ship from fore to aft.
We have seen that the high-pressure fire hoses were still on deck, ready for use any time in case of attack. They adopted lights out policy during night time transit in all accommodation areas during the transit proper, the same practice adopted even in the cruise ship. They too join the group transit, in-bound and out- bound, unmindful of the delays it incurred in the name of safety.
The Navy patrol groups from India, China, Japan, and Russia and from EU were jointly patrolling the area but the pirates have extended their activities to a much wider range. Because of the sophisticated navigational equipment onboard the mother pirate ship, they can study beforehand the vessel passage plan of their potential targets.  Despite their presence in the area and joining the group transit, it is necessary that the ships intensified their preventive measures against attacks, and still maintain 24hours piracy watches throughout their voyage through the Indian Ocean, GOA and the coastal waters of Somalia. It still pays, to observe vigilance and act swiftly when sightings of small boats approaching towards the vessel are seen in the ships’ radar. Always maintain a sharp look out at the bridge wing, at the vessels’ fore and aft, to confirm visually any suspected activities.
 Last May 6, 2011 the swift response of the Turkish navy near the vicinity  of the pirated vessel M/ V Full City where her crew was unharmed by hiding in the ships  “CITADEL”   simply showed that an increase visibility and immediate response of the Naval Forces in the Critical Zone can foil pirate attack.
Seafarers from all over the world will continue to work onboard the ships for financial reasons. Right now, for every transit the company gives a hardship allowance equivalent to five days of their basic pay whether or not the transit last for a day or two only. For the sake of monetary gains, they choose to put themselves in high-risk situations, rather than getting hungry ashore. The very sorry state suffered by the seafarers held in captivity for months did not even discourage them at all.
From the latter, it is imperative to make a thorough investigative study, based on the historical occurrences of the vessels held hostage by the pirates at GOA, coast of Somalia, and the South African Horn. By using statistical tools and techniques in analysing, and correlating the contributing factors to this Piracy menace and not simply counting their numbers. Likewise, compare them with those vessels that foiled their attack and the vessels that have safely transitted. By doing so, we hope to arrive at a more tangible solution against piracy. At any rate, it is never too late for the end, to justify the means! Meantime, some of the newly available anti-piracy measures outlined below, are noteworthy for the shipping companies to consider, as an added preventive measures that merchant vessels need to adopt on board. They may conduct a technical and economic evaluation to validate its efficiency:
1.) CITADEL- as discussed in the following link: http://marineinsight.com/marine/marine-piracy-marine/what-is-citadel-anti-piracy-method/
2.) New Laser to combat piracy -http://marineinsight.com/misc/equipments/a-new-laser-system-to-defend-ships-from-pirates/
The piracy at the Gulf of Aden and the South African Horn will always be a profitable vicious cycle. It now depends on the Heads of States for members of the countries of the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization to join hands in utilizing each nation available military defense to give full support to curb piracy and to push the government of Somalia to intensify their campaign against their erring nationals. All nations must mutually agree to sanction pirates with stiffer penalties for the crime of piracy committed. The said activity already pinches and drains the resources of the Shipping lines due to increased premium from the Insurance Companies. Their hostile activities endanger the lives of many Seafarers on board ships, inflicted emotional trauma and angst to them and their families ashore. These unquantifiable damages are all beyond monetary compensations.
We look forward to the concerted efforts of the different governments whose concrete actions will have an iron hand to implement measures geared to eliminate the undesirable elements at sea, making the Gulf of Aden, the South African Horn, and the Indian Ocean, a better and safer place to sail again. Meantime, let us continue to pray for a Divine Intervention to hear our voices and clamour to end the perils of piracy.
Wiki, Turkey navy, Sea Marshall Blogspot
Nepia news, Sea Critic, Intertanko
Marine Insight
Maritime sun, Turkey Navy
Pendon trading,
Al Arabiya news


  1. It would be good to the sailors to be armed. But it would be well arranged. Since it might be also used by other seafarers in their own advantage. I myself would say a BIG YES. Since I had an experience with those pirates who likes to chase us at the vicinity of GULF of ADEN. But they have no chance to capture us.

  2. Yes its very important to keep all safety tools with you as you never know at which time they would be of use to you.