Dealing with the Threat
Given that avoidance is difficult, ships must find ways to employ the “deter and delay” elements of counter-piracy strategy. These rely heavily on exploiting elements of the ship itself, and establishing procedures to follow should the vessel fall under pirate attack.
In the early phases and well into the current stages of the piracy epidemic, reports suggest that only about 25 percent of vessels transiting pirate infested waters are adequately prepared to follow maritime industry best practices as established by the leading global maritime authorities such as the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). Piracy experts have worked diligently to make counter-piracy best practices available to vessel operating companies and mariners alike. Recent accounts of vessels and crews successfully surviving piracy attacks indicate that there is a move toward improved planning and training.
Best practices include having a secure area to which the crew can retreat, as was the case with the Magellan Star, and adequate training so that their use is understood by all members of the crew. The designated safe areas must be provisioned with adequate food and water, have effective communications and navigation capabilities and proper sanitation at the very least. Properly secured after-steering spaces lend themselves to this approach to crew survival and protection and there may be other suitable below-deck engineering areas depending on vessel design.
As part of the voyage-planning process, vessels sailing in high threat areas should regularly report their position to local and designated international naval authorities such as the Royal Navy’s Maritime Trade Organisation, and vessels must ensure receipt of up-to-date intelligence with regard to pirate activity as furnished by the IMB and other entities.
Another risk mitigation measure is convoying, although the practice can cost shippers time and money in today’s just-in-time marketplace. Use of extra lookouts, evasive maneuvering and piracy resistance equipment, from water cannons to concertina wire strung along a ship’s deck railing may offer heightened security against pirate attacks as well.
Training and Drills
In some cases, having qualified security personnel on board may make sense, but programs can only be effective when the entire crew is properly trained and drilled on procedures. Mariners who sail on high-risk vessels in coastal and restricted ocean areas which may harbor pirates should be required to undergo specialized security training in several key areas.
Crew training should focus on fast occupation of the citadel or established safe areas in the event of an attack, and they must ensure that proper habitability and communications systems are there for the crew. Vessel disablement or special navigation techniques are situation-specific and may be incorporated into different training scenarios. The crew should also be taught successful hostage survival techniques and given guidelines for behavior while captive.
Piracy attack and recovery drills should be scheduled and conducted prior to entering high-risk areas; these drills should focus on evasive action, repelling pirates, and the orderly occupation of the prepared safe areas followed by the disabling of the vessel or navigation toward naval forces with related communications as circumstances permit. The use of duress codes and other communications may also be included in planning and training as part of the response and recovery phase once.
Crews should also be well versed on the procedures that will take place at the ship owner/operator’s headquarters if the crew is taken hostage. There should be a clear process by which their loved ones will be informed of their situation and a procedure for the ship’s owner or operator to respond to the issue.
Hostage crew members must be trained to remain as calm as possible and work through any difficulties under the guidance of the shipmaster, or senior crewmember on hand in a well-coordinated process with an overriding sense of teamwork. They should avoid personal interaction with their captors as much as possible, but they should be trained to be cooperative and to avoid aggressive action or trying to escape as that will endanger their shipmates’ safety.
Hostage scenarios are usually situationally specific, however, and the behavior of the maritime protection agents may vary from that of the crew members accordingly.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
Ransoming of vessels, heretofore accepted as a standard practice on the part of the traditional maritime establishment, has only provided incentive for the dramatic growth of the current Somali piracy epidemic, while various segments of the global maritime industry legal and insurance communities have also profited.
In April the Obama administration added a number of Somalis to a Treasury Department list of persons with ties to terror or violence, some of them with suspected ties to piracy. The designation forbids Americans and U.S organizations from financial activity with them, essentially forbidding ransom payments for pirated vessels and crews. It is an attempt to end appeasement and to prevent ransom funds from falling into the hands of terrorists and is well intentioned and a step.
No ban on ransom payments, however, can guarantee that ships and their crews won’t fall into pirates’ hands, and the complete absence of a ransom motive can place crews’ lives in the gravest of danger. That prospect only lends greater urgency to sound risk management and shipboard security measures.