Friday, May 6, 2011

More Freight Vessels And Pirates Both Captured Or Released This Month

Where is a Consistent Policy on Piracy? At Least EU Naval Force Has A New Tool to Fight Back
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The past month has seen the usual assortment of pirate stories relevant to those with an interest in freight matters and ocean cargo transport in particular. The situation has once again highlighted the woeful lack of consistency when dealing with those suspected of buccaneering activities, particularly in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Firstly there are again mixed reports since Portuguese Commodore Alberto Correia took over the command of Task Force 465 as the new European Union Naval Force Headquarters – Operation Atalanta Force Commander less than a month ago. EU Navfor is charged with providing escorts vessels for the World Food Program and the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), as their primary mission, a fact often forgotten by the owners of other vessels transiting the danger area.

The big news this week is the fact that a Spanish Court has incarcerated two Somali pirates for a total of 439 years, unsurprisingly they are not expected to serve their full sentences (they’ll probably be released in thirty years or so rather than dying in gaol) whilst eighteen pirates captured on the 6th April by EU Navfor were released without charge fifteen days later, despite a wealth of evidence against them.

As it is apparently fine for the US to assassinate an enemy of the state within another country these days, it seems curious that a legally contracted naval force like EU Navfor is unable to deal with suspects who were effectively caught in the act by the Finns when they attempted to seize the Singapore registered tanker MV Pacific Opal. Previously the EU force have pleaded lack of enough prima facie evidence to hold suspects but in this case they were quick to point out the prisoners were kept under guard aboard the Finnish warship FNS Pohjanmaa whilst awaiting confirmation from any state to proceed with prosecution. As this was not forthcoming the pirates were subsequently released.

According to article 105 of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the state that seized the suspected pirates has the right to prosecute them. The Finns decided not to get involved and therefore asked the Singaporean authorities who also failed to accept the case. Other states that could be asked to prosecute the suspected pirates are those whose nationality the crew members hold, the state the shipping company is from or any other state that has a national link to the case. As this could theoretically extend to destination, consigning country or supplier of any cargo carried, it seems ludicrous that none stepped forward in this case.

Many will wonder that an official European force cannot pass such suspects to the jurisdiction of the European Court who seem so ready to accept other high profile, but perhaps less inflammatory, cases.

The contrast with the recent Spanish convictions is, to say the least, marked. A Spanish tuna fishing vessel, the Alakrana, was released 47 days after seizure in November 2009, no reason for release was given but suspicions linger that a sizeable ransom was paid. Twelve armed men had boarded the ship, capturing the mixed race crew of thirty six, two of the pirates however were caught by the Spanish military after leaving the hijacked vessel and, unusually, the two captives were immediately transferred back to Spain making possible negotiations by their cohorts for their release pointless.

Every week we hear of new initiatives to strangle the illegal trade, with the weight of virtually all the major representatives of the ocean shipping industry vowing to support action, however it is clear that unless strict codes of conduct and protocols regarding the capture, remanding and prosecution of pirate suspects is instituted by all parties policing these waters, such anomalies will remain.

In other pirate related news on the same day the Finnish held suspects were released two other ships were attacked in the region. An Italian flagged bulk freight carrier, the 74,500 tonne MV Rosalia D’Amato was attacked by a single skiff around 350 miles off the coast of Oman, this despite being registered with MSC(HOA) and reporting to UKMTO. An attempt to contact the crew of six Italians and fifteen Filipinos was answered by the abductors who warned security forces to stay away whilst the vessel sailed toward the African coast.

The container vessel Hanjin Tianjin was attacked about 250 miles east of the Yemeni island of Socotra and managed to get off distress calls to both the authorities and South Korean owners Hanjin Shipping. The box vessel is equipped with a very secure ‘citadel’ or safe room complete with satellite communications and the twenty strong crew of Koreans and Indonesians no doubt had been well drilled in how to react in such a situation.

As with other similar cases it is likely the pirates discovered the ability for them to control the ship was lost and monitoring radio calls no doubt informed them that a Korean warship was en route at pace to assist their countrymen. What is certain is that by the time the South Korean destroyer, Choi Young, arrived at the scene fourteen hours later to assist the container ship, the miscreants had fled empty handed and the two vessels continued toward Singapore.

Another vessel registered with MSC (HOA) and reporting to UKMTO, the MV Gemini, a 21,000 tonne Singaporean product tanker, was the victim of a hijack on the 30th April, the crew of 25 (4 Korean, 13 Indonesians, 3 Myanmar and 5 Chinese) en route to Kenya from Malaysia. Nothing more is known of her whereabouts at this time.

Now the good news, releases in the past few weeks include the cargo ship Asphalt Venture, Panamanian registered and held for 199 days following her capture on the 28th September last year, unfortunately seven of her fifteen man crew are still held by the Somali gang who took her.

On the 23rd April, the bulk carrier MV Renuar was released from pirate control after 133 days in captivity. The Liberian owned, Panamanian flagged vessel and her crew of 24 Filipinos had been pirated on 11th December 2010, 550 nautical miles off the coast of India and on the 1st May pirates released the Indonesian bulk cargo vessel Sinar Kudus after 46 days in captivity.

In an attempt to prove more effective in the detection and deterrence of piracy, if not in the prosecution of suspects, the EU Naval Force and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) have collaborated to develop an integrated maritime monitoring service (MARSURV) to allow tracking of merchant vessels in the High Risk Area off the coast of Somalia.

EMSA is the technical cooperation platform of the Commission and EU Member States in the field of maritime safety. This monitoring service has been designed to fuse multiple sources of ship specific information (MSCHOA registration and UKMTO reporting information) and positional data (Long Range Information Tracking – LRIT and SATELLITE AIS) in a real time environment.

MARSURV will greatly enhance the ability of counter-piracy forces to manage and assess risks to the thousands of merchant vessels transiting across this huge area. It will also assist in incident management and improve the ability to warn merchant ships in imminent danger of piracy; ultimately improving the protection from piracy provided to all merchant shipping.

Only ships registered to the sixty six nations whose flags provide LRIT data for merchant vessels in transit through the dangerous waters will benefit from the enhanced situational awareness that such a real time picture provides to counter-piracy forces. EU Navfor and EMSA say they are continuing to work closely with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) whose efforts in establishing the ‘IMO Anti-Piracy LRIT Distribution Facility’ have been essential in developing this project and is the foundation on which this service has been built.

For those interested in the latest EU Navfor statistics there is a ‘Stateboard’ available to view HERE of vessels and crew currently held by Somali pirates. It should be said that these statistics are often accused of understating the number of both ships and crew being held against their will, by other non governmental interests.

Photo: An example of the new MARCURV display available to EU Navfor.