Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pirate Update, the Position of Shipping Today

An HSG Feature Article by John van Dore
Shipping News Feature

US – EUROPE – AFRICA 2009 has been, so far, the year of the Pirate. We have seen ever more frequent attacks on merchant shipping in areas as diverse as Scandinavia and the Indian Ocean. Today it seems appropriate to review the situation globally and to interpret whether we are really in the grip of an upsurge of piracy or if the whole situation is just a glitch, a press driven fancy.

The facts indicate that piracy is the growth industry of the year. The first half of 2009 has seen a rise in reported attacks to 240 from last year’s equivalent figure of 114 which in itself was a significant increase from previous years.

Not only are there more attacks but the targets, and the consequences, are getting progressively bigger, driven, as they are, by the twin fuels of greed and hardship.

Today’s news on the MV Arctic Sea is an excellent case on which to judge the current climate. The ship has sporadically made the headlines since its “capture” on the 24th July. Somehow, despite the nature of the crime, it is the mystery surrounding her whereabouts and the circumstances of the Russian crewmen which are raising interest levels. Just a couple of years ago her seizure by invaders would have been sufficiently newsworthy to merit blazing headlines in every daily. Today she only warranted a prominent mention in the British press when it was reasoned she had passed through UK waters whilst possibly still being a captive vessel.

So, this is a real and escalating problem. In which case what has happened so far and what plans do the international agencies have in hand to deal with it?

There have been numerous seizures of ships for ransom off the Somali coast for some time now. In April loins were girded when the MV Maersk Alabama was taken. That scenario ended with US Navy SEALS using their snipers to kill three of the offenders and rescuing Richard Phillips, the ships master. Captain Phillips now believes that senior crew should have arms available but says he understands the possible complications of such actions.

Later in April an attack came on the MSC Melody, an Italian cruise ship. The different financial and social parameters within which such vessels operate meant she carried a team of armed Israeli security guards who beat off the assault.

After these incidents security was stepped up with Chinese, Russian and Indian patrols being added to European and US vessels patrolling the coast of Somalia. The effect this had was to cause the raiders to widen their field of attack throughout the Indian Ocean. For the past few weeks incidents in the area have reduced but this is likely to be principally caused by the rough seas and bad weather which the region is undergoing at the moment.

Elsewhere there are tales of mystery, bravery and infighting. Five Lithuanians taken off Nigeria have been freed today (Friday) after their Foreign Minister swore no ransom would be paid. The men, captured last week, are apparently unharmed. Today reports reached us of the crew of two Egyptian fishing boats, kidnapped four months ago by Somali bandits, who attacked their captors with guns and machetes, killing at least two and injuring more. The 34 fishermen then sailed to safety on their own boats the Momtaz 1 and Samara Ahmed. In a reversal of roles they are reported to be en route to Egypt and still holding other pirates captive.

Another bright note is the news that the pirates have started fighting each other in a bid to win the richest, and easiest, pickings. As usual, thieves will only too willingly, steal from thieves.

As well as the international patrols many nations are gearing up to meet the threat of further attacks with direct action. It is hard to persuade most governme