Thursday, August 8, 2013

Piracy - An Appeal for Mercy Alongside an Analysis of Freight Shipping Security on the High Seas

Relatives of Pirate Captives Invoke the name of Allah Whilst Maritime Security Groups Worry About Viability
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – US – WORLDWIDE – Two drastically differing documents arrived at the Handy Shipping Guide offices in the UK today which cast perspective on the extent to which modern day piracy, particularly in and around the Indian Ocean, has affected both the commercial aspects of bulk and container freight movement and the tragedy inflicted on individuals and their families. Firstly we have received a heartfelt appeal to those in the Somali community with the power to effect the release of innocent seafarers caught up in what appears to be a futile attempt to extract a ransom from the vessel’s owners.

The message, from the families of the crewmen held captive, was released to us by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response organisation, and has been widely published in the region’s media. Despite a previous similar appeal, the families of the crew of the mv Albedo, which sank recently, remain undeterred by the lack of response and hope that a further cry for mercy will be heeded during this, the Islamic festival of Eid which marks the conclusion of Ramadan. The appeal reads as follows:

“We the families of crew of Albedo from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had earlier appealed to the Elders, our Brothers and Sisters of Somalia to assist with humanitarian release of our loved ones who were on the sunken ship, Albedo. The ship was hijacked by some Somali men on 26th Nov 2010 and 5 of the crew members including 4 Sri Lankan crew have not been able to contact their family members. The fate of rest of the 11 crew remains a big concern for us as we still pray to Almighty GOD to take care of them.

“We are in desperate condition living with a little hope to see our beloved crew soon. On this eve of forthcoming Eid on 9th August 2013, we once again appeal with our folded hands to all Somali community in the world to convince Somali men, who are holding these innocent poor life to release them on humanitarian grounds. We have not celebrated any festival since the last 3 years and have forgotten even to laugh. The only faith on which we are surviving is that we will be able to rejoice with our son/ father/ husband / brother one day. Their small children, wife, old parents are eagerly waiting to meet with them and again celebrate festivals.

“The festival of 'Eid' symbolises brotherhood, love, peace and prosperity among all sections of the society. We would be very grateful and thankful throughout our life to kindly assist in securing the release of unfortunate crew of Albedo. Please accept our sincere request as we have left with no other option than to beg for the life our family's sole breadwinners.

“With all our hands folded, the families of crew of Albedo once again desperately seek the help of all Somali community to urgently help us to save them.”

No-one could fail to be moved by the desperation of the innocent families but the only good news since the hijack of the Albedo has been the drastic reduction in successful attacks on shipping since then. This has been due to the multi-pronged policies of better coordinated naval forces, increased and better dispersed intelligence, the widespread use of Best Management Practices and of course the actions of the ships owners in the installation of safe citadels, physical deterrents to attack and particularly the use of armed security personnel aboard likely targets.

Now Advanfort, a Washington based security company which provides advice and former US, UK and NATO special forces operatives to accompany vessels travelling through perilous waters, has released a White Paper using Harvard assistant professor Michael Porter’s original 1979 model outlining how competitive forces shape strategy, to analyse how we have reached the current position and predict what may well lay ahead for private security providers in the future.

The language of the document could hardly of course be more different than that released by the captives’ relatives. Porter’s model contends that five factors affect the success or otherwise of a commercial venture, no matter what form it takes. These are: the threat of new entrants into the market; rivalry among competitors; the threat of substitute products or services; the bargaining power of buyers; and the bargaining power of suppliers. These factors are also influenced by the relative power of other stakeholders.

The document is available to read here in full but the conclusions of its author should certainly be read with a degree of scepticism, drawn as they are, by someone with a vested interest. The rapid growth of the maritime security industry was in response to a particular threat which now has been largely subdued. Obviously however as long as the social conditions which spawned the even more rapid rise of piracy exist, the threat of attack remains. Should the naval forces withdraw any degree of support, the need for armed escorts will increase.

The White Paper concludes that the chances of commercial success in the maritime security business for new players is low but what is certainly likely is that better techniques, convoy support, faster transit times as ‘slow steaming’ is abandoned due to increased trade, the new generation of much larger vessels reducing the number of transits for the same quantity of containers, all these are likely to put more pressure on the extant players in an increasingly competitive field.

Photo: An anti-piracy exercise (courtesy US Department of Defense)