Monday, September 19, 2011

More Freight Vessels Pirated - But Authorities Closing In

Success for EU Force and IMO Advises on Security Aboard
Shipping News Feature

AFRICA –SOMALIA – OMAN - Piracy remains a growth industry in the region, subtly changing as attitudes harden toward the seemingly endless attacks off the Somali coast. The African West coast has also registered an increase in incidents with at least fifteen serious incidents off the shores of Benin and in the Niger Delta as various groups, with an eye to profit or politics, caused the Lloyds Market Association to designate areas such as the waters south of Cotonou, where a 12,000 tonne tanker the MT Emocean disappeared last month, and Gulf of Guinea in the region of the Beninese and Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zones north of Latitude 3° North, as war risk areas due to the number of attacks on freight vessels.

Meanwhile fog off the port of Salalah in Oman provided cover for a pirate gang to simply overwhelm the crew of the 52,000 tonne tanker MV Fairchem Bogey whilst she was anchored amongst a cluster of other vessels last month. Negotiations with the hijackers are continuing but the brazen attack in Omani waters by a Somali gang surprised many with its audacity. A press embargo by Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, the operators of the Marshall Islands flagged vessel continues whilst talks with the perpetrators are ongoing. The vessel was last reported in the region of Gracad, a Somali coastal town.

Whilst tankers and container ships are the primary target for the Somali gangs smaller vessels are still being subjected to attacks. On the 10th September EU Navfor forces, in the form of the SPS Galicia, attacked and subsequently sank, a pirate skiff which contained one member of the crew from the private yacht SY Tribal Kat, taken a couple of days earlier. The seven pirates were arrested and the hostage was freed without harm. The woman, Mrs Colombo had witnessed her husband murdered when their catamaran had been attacked.

Once again this naval action was as a result of the response to a distress call and a spotter plane, helicopters and at least two EU Navfor warships were involved in the rescue. Meanwhile in London the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has approved Interim Recommendations for flag States regarding the use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on board ships in the High Risk Area (as defined in MSC.1/Circ.1406) and Interim Guidance to shipowners, ship operators, and shipmasters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on board ships in the High Risk Area (MSC.1/Circ.1405).

Both sets of guidance are aimed at addressing the complex issue of the employment of private, armed security on board ships. These interim Circulars provide considerations on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel if and when a flag State determines that such a measure would be appropriate and lawful. The IMO position was covered more fully in our article in May.

As stated in the circulars, the interim guidance and recommendations “are not intended to endorse or institutionalize” the use of armed guards. Therefore, they do not represent any fundamental change of policy by the IMO in this regard. The IMO state clearly it is for each flag State, individually, to decide whether or not PCASP should be authorized for use on board ships flying their flag. If a flag State decides to permit this practice, it is up to that State to determine the conditions under which authorization will be granted.

The IMO states it is constantly updating its advice regarding the protection of vessels and crew and new circulars will be disseminated as and when appropriate, but meanwhile, the use of security personnel should not be considered as an alternative to Best Management Practices (BMP) (updated last month) and the other protective measures we have often seen used to good effect.

EU Navfor also participated in the Maritime Security Conference held earlier this month in Mahe, Seychelles, a region often the centre of attempted and successful pirate prosecutions, to follow the major conference which took place in April this year and was attended by representatives from more than fifty countries.

For anyone wishing to get a complete picture of how the piracy situation has evolved over the past few years simply type the word pirate into the News Search Box at the head of this page to read all our various articles, some containing actual video footage of pirate attacks and the rescue of hostages.