Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good News for Maritime Security Team in Custody on Arms Charges after Protecting Merchant Ships

As Things Have Slowed off Somalia However We Give a Dubious Welcome to the New Piracy Hotspot
Shipping News Feature

INDIA – SOUTH EAST ASIA – The protracted saga of the anti-piracy protection vessel, the Seaman Guard Ohio, belonging to private maritime security group AdvanFort, appears at last to be more or less over with the news that the Chennai Court has dropped all charges related to the carriage of illegal arms. The ship was detained by Indian authorities along with her 35 strong crew last October as detailed in our previous articles, following her latest tour to protect shipping in the region from pirate activities. In other piracy news it seems Somalia is no longer the first place to avoid when operating any sort of merchant vessel.

In March the Ukrainian captain and British Head of Security taken from the Sierra Leone flagged Seaman Guard Ohio continued to be detained in Puzhal prison whilst the other 33 aboard were installed in an hotel near the Court whilst the case proceeded. It is believed the captain remains in custody and may still face charges, possibly in relation to accusations that the vessel refuelled illegally. The rest of the men are apparently free to leave provided there is no last minute appeal from the prosecution.

The men detained hailed from several countries and included ex paratroopers from the UK and former military men from Estonia with diplomatic moves from both countries protesting the situation. A 147,000 strong petition was handed in at Downing Street calling for the release of the men in a concerted campaign. The Indian authorities claimed that none of the 21 strong private security team had Indian Visa’s, nor was any record of the weapons and ammunition carried aboard or used ever kept.

Elsewhere marine intelligence and security group Dryad Maritime has released figures warning that the waters of South East Asia are now seeing more hijacking and piracy events than any other region. The company is planning to open new offices in the area and says numbers for the second quarter of the year justify this, with this year alone seeing 12 reported cases of vessels being boarded underway and a further 19 reports of robberies, attempted robberies or suspicious approaches in the anchorages to the east of the Singapore Strait.

Late last month the MT Ai Maru became the fifth product tanker to be hijacked since April 2014 when it was attacked and on July 4 the MT Moresby 9 became the seventh when she was boarded by pirates about 35 miles off the Anambas Islands who then took the crew hostage before stealing part of the 2,200 tonne cargo of marine gas oil and taking the ship to an unknown destination.

The Moresby 9 had already suffered a similar fate 11 months ago when she was boarded whilst transiting the Singapore Strait (a report of this incident with contact details for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Hotlines is available here). The pattern of these crimes is to disguise each stolen ship before renaming her and emptying the cargo of hydrocarbons into one or more other vessels at a pre-arranged location. Ian Millen, Chief Operating Officer, Dryad Maritime, commented:

“Our team of analysts have assessed that at least one gang is operating to the east of Singapore, hijacking small product tankers and stealing fuel cargoes. These criminals have knowledge in the workings of ships’ equipment and procedures for carrying out STS transfers. Without more proactive efforts by local maritime forces to counter this crime, we predict further incidents of this type in the region”.

Dryad further reports that, according to public policy think-tank the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability (NISS), the increase in piracy in Southeast Asia is attributed to a number of causes. These include; over-fishing, poor maritime regulation, organised crime syndicates, widespread poverty and politically motivated groups. In addition, the NISS says the rise in trade in Southeast Asian waters adds further incentive for pirates. Overall trade in ASEAN increased by 16.8 per cent to US$2.1 trillion (S$2.6 trillion) in 2011 from 2010 and in particular, ASEAN exports of mineral fuels and oils, as well as their distilled products, were worth US$228 billion in 2011.