Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mixed Fortunes For Freight Shipping Victims As Pirate Raids Continue

Meanwhile Underwriters Extend Attack Zone - Premiums to Rise?
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – UK – WORLDWIDE – Pirate attacks planned and executed from bases in Somalia have continued since our last report but, apparently at least, there are no indications that the current wave of hijackings are terrorist related. It seems however that in the corridors of power attitudes toward the raiders are hardening with a review of personal security guidelines by the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

First some good news; on the 10th December the MV United Star suffered an assault at the hands of four heavily armed men aboard a skiff which had been launched from a larger vessel about three miles distant. Despite concerted efforts to secure hooked boarding ladders to the victim, the continual course changes and evasive manoeuvres employed by the freighter’s skipper ensured no hold was gained and the attack was eventually broken off. EU NAVFOR, the EU’s security detail charged with protecting vessels in the region praised the crew and said that the scrupulous implementation of their recommended best management practices, which were compiled with the assistance of thirteen industry organisations, had once again proved successful.

On the 11th December the 72,000 tonne Liberian flagged, Greek owned bulk carrier MV Eleni P, taken off the Omani coast on the 12th May, was released by her captors. The crew of twenty three were apparently not seriously harmed by their detention and the nineteen Filipino crewmen aboard finally made it home yesterday after their seven month ordeal.

Unfortunately the same morning that the Eleni P was starting her homeward journey a pirate gang launched a rocket propelled grenade attack on another similar 70,000 tonne Liberian owned, Panamanian flagged bulk cargo freighter and, backed up with small arms fire, managed to gain control. The attack on the MV Renuar was launched from two fast attack skiffs operating from a nearby mother ship approximately 550 nautical miles from the Indian coast.

Ironically the crew of the Renuar consists of twenty four Filipino sailors who tried desperately to avoid their fate before being overwhelmed, the captured vessel was then sailed back toward the Somali coast. Another vessel was luckier four days later when the Marshall Island-flagged tanker Hellespont Trinity used the same tactics employed by the skipper of the United Star and beat off a similar assault by the crew of a skiff.

On the following day, the 17th December, the pirates showed a human side when they released a seriously ill crewman from the MV Hannibal ll which has been held captive at Garacad in North East Somalia since being seized on the 11th November. The man had the symptoms of acute appendicitis and, apparently unwilling to cause the death of a captive, the pirate leaders agreed to the rescue. The CMF Thai warship TNS Pattani sent in an RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to rescue the man who was then transferred to the FGS Hamburg by helicopter for treatment by her German medical staff.

Yesterday saw the taking of the MV Orna, a Panamanian flagged vessel owned by a company in the United Arab Emirates. The seizure occurred about 400 miles North East of the Seychelles in the all too familiar way around four armed men boarding after a grenade and rifle attack from two fast skiffs. Some reports suggest that at 28,000 tonnes the Orna may well be used as a mother ship to launch more attacks.

Meanwhile the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the IMO have just published the results of their latest meeting which closed on the 3rd December. Amongst the many items was a review of the latest pirate attack statistics, particularly with regard to Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. The MSC was also updated on measures taken by IMO to assist countries in implementing the Code of Conduct concerning the repression of piracy and armed robbery, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, to which Eritrea has just become the 18th signatory state.

The Committee was also informed that, following the establishment of a distribution facility at IMO headquarters in London, for the provision of flag State Long Range Identification and Tracking of ships (LRIT) information to security forces operating in waters of the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean, the IMO Secretary-General has received requests from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) for the provision of access to the distribution facility.

The requests received a positive response and SOLAS Contracting Governments were invited (via IMO Circular Letter No.3134) to consider providing flag State LRIT information to NATO and EU NAVFOR, a fact which will doubtless be welcomed by the marine insurance community who this week decided to extend the area considered hazardous by way of piracy.

The ever increasing radius of attacks persuaded the Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee, which represents the interests of those writing war risks in the London insurance market, that an extension was essential. The JWC state that the use of substantial motherships means more incidents further from the Somali coast and this has prompted them to delineate a new area of enhanced risk, stretching further into the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman and full details of which (including pirate attack maps) can be seen HERE.

The insurers point out that EUNAVFOR believes that voyage registration is improving but still perhaps 15% of vessels still do not register with MSCHOA or report to UKMTO and are therefore unable to benefit fully from the naval protection which is available. In one sample of incidents, out of 15,000 vessels which registered their transits, only 2 were taken, whether this is reflected in future premiums remains to be seen.

Certainly the general feeling amongst ship owners and operators is that more leeway must be given to vessel operators to protect their ships and crews in the event of a pirate attack. If the international agencies cannot respond in time, which given the vast danger area now involved is an unreasonable expectation, then additional security staff and harsher techniques should be allowed seems to be the message.

The IMO seem aware of the strength of feeling and have approved an Maritime Safety Committee Circular on Guidance for company security officers on preparation of a company and crew for the contingency of hijack by pirates in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, which supplements existing guidelines.

Additional fears have been voiced in some quarters recently that there might even be a darker side to some of the recent attacks with a mention of possible terrorist involvement. There was a suspicion that, should that be the case, it was likely the group concerned would be members of Al Shabaab , a radical Wahabi extremist movement who control parts of Somalia. The insurance community have employed Exclusive Analysis, a specialist intelligence company that forecasts commercially relevant political and violent risks worldwide who state categorically there are no established connections between the gangsters running the pirate gangs and any known terrorist group.

Photo: A skiff off the Somali coast carrying sufficient fuel for a long trip.