Tuesday, November 22, 2011

IMO Representative Speaks Out On The Piracy Of Freight Shipping Off Somalia

Anger at the Current Situation Pervades the Industry Worldwide
Shipping News Feature

UK – SOMALIA – WORLDWIDE - Our article of a couple of days ago told of the Assembly of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is currently meeting in London and mentioned in passing that piracy remains high on the agenda. Now Sarosh Zaiwalla, a specialist in shipping law and a Permanent Representative to the IMO has commented on the current situation as regards the hijacking of bulk freight and container vessels passing through the troubled waters of the Gulf of Aden and beyond.

Mr Zaiwalla’s comments illustrate the increasing frustration which the global shipping community feels as year after year the problem of piracy worsens whilst little seems to be happening, either to address the political problems in Somalia, or to take internationally coordinated steps to deal with the situation directly using an armed response. Speaking to the Handy Shipping Guide Mr Zaiwalla said:

“In October, I addressed the Indian Shipping Summit in Mumbai. As a commercial lawyer who specialises in Shipping Arbitrations, I thought I would be asked about cargo disputes and Bills of Lading. The Indian Shipping Community however, despite always being a profoundly commercial group, had one thing on their minds that overtook even their bottom lines.

“International World Trade relies on the ability of traders to transport huge amounts of goods on giant moving structures across the most hostile seas in the world. These traders face enough challenges from nature and ill-fortune. It is nothing short of outrageous that, over the last few years, ship owners and seafarers have been forced to add the very real threat of violent piracy to the dangers of their normal lives. Piracy is a major threat not only to the shipping industry, but also to peace throughout the globe – if the world does nothing to stand up to people who use AK-47s and grenades to take the property of others, then what will stop thieves adopting the same tactics on the land?

“The Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia is now almost a no-go area for international ships. The most recent large scale act of piracy took place during the Indian summit, when the Italian ‘Monte Cristo’ was captured in this area. The crew managed to hide in their citadel, while the rest of the world wondered what could be done. It is a matter of great satisfaction that an international NATO force took charge and freed those men, but that is something that has not happened enough. More commonly, ransoms are paid for seafarers and cargo, meaning that expensive ‘Kidnap and Ransom’ insurance policies have added to the cost of shipping.

“The individual navy vessels from different countries that attempt to counter piracy are few in number and grossly inadequate for the task of patrolling the whole of the Indian Ocean. There is at present no coordinated approach. As a result, pirates are often captured only to be fed and returned to Somalia, free to go back to their old work of piracy.

“If international forces are to coordinate in order effectively to tackle piracy in the long term, I believe that they must combine their efforts into a UN Naval task force. This force could then concentrate on patrolling the coast of Somalia, from where the vast majority of the pirates emerge. I hope that we will all be surprised by the effect that could be brought about by such a force monitoring all small vessels leaving Somalia’s coastline to ensure they were genuine fishing vessels.

“With that in mind, I have used my position as a permanent member of the International Maritime Organisation (“IMO”) to force the issue. I had intended to move a resolution at the IMO for this purpose, but I will not now do so, as the Secretary General of the IMO has informed me that he himself with be moving this resolution. At the IMO’s General Meeting in November I hope to contribute to the pressure that will be required to create a Naval task force that may be able to save many lives, as well as a lot of money, by taking control of the Indian Ocean back from the pirates.

“Short of the creation of a UN naval taskforce, it is not going to be practical to control the plague of piracy. The Somalian pirates are effectively the same as any other terrorist. The only difference is that while international terrorists have so far indulged in acts of terrorism for the sake of their professed political causes, Somalia’s pirates indulge in terrorism only to fill their own pockets.

“Arming ocean-going vessels will go some way towards dealing with pirates, but for this course of action to work, many obstacles must be overcome. For example, Egypt will not allow vessels passing through the Suez Canal to carry on-board guns and ammunition. What also is of concern is the growing ‘industry’ around piracy. The total losses to the International Trade Community on account of piracy in the year so far is estimated to be US$2billion. Out of this US$2 billion, only about US$110 million represents ransom paid to the pirates, just over 1% of the total loss. The rest of the loss is mainly represented by increased insurance premiums, the cost of adapting ships to higher security standards and payments made to the specialist security companies which have sprung up to deal with piracy. At the end of the day, this additional cost falls on the consumer: they increase the freight charges and, consequently, the cost of the goods to the ultimate consumer.

“The 21st Century requires an enlightened approach to combat evils like piracy. It requires the countries of the world to come together, whether or not they share a coastline, to eradicate once and for all the Somalian piracy which has emerged in recent years. Any dragging of feet now would cause serious harm to the safety and livelihood of many innocent people, and would play right into the pirates’ hands.” 

Mr Zaiwalla’s views, and those of his Indian shipping industry colleagues are perfectly reasonable but many other observers will be concerned at the thought that more freighters passing through these troubled waters might wish to carry arms, a move which may well lead to an escalation of violence by people who will have no hesitation in using extreme tactics as the disturbing video’s linked to one of our recent articles demonstrated.

Ideally a political solution to the troubles of Somalia together with an officially commissioned military response would be found, but, with the eyes of the world concentrated on a seemingly worsening financial global economy, the question will be if and when impassioned pleas from the likes of Mr Zaiwalla and his IMO colleagues can move this terrible situation on to a better place.

Anyone interested in the background to this story should type pirate into the News Search Box at the top of any page.

Photo: Sarosh Zaiwalla is a leading maritime law specialist and Senior Partner of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors which specializes in international commercial arbitration and litigation and is Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).