Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ocean Freight Vessels May Have Armed Escorts Through Pirate Waters

Wheels of Power Slowly Turn Toward Private Security Option
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – UK – WORLDWIDE – The scourge of piracy, particularly in the Gulf of Aden and the waters beyond, would seem to be facing a threat of its own as the powers that be tire of the continual attacks on merchant shipping and their inability to respond effectively. Privately armed security detachments accompanying container, general cargo and bulk freight vessels travelling through the danger zone seem to have been given tacit acceptance, if not approval, after long discussions at the London headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in past weeks.

The IMO met between the 11th and 20th May and interim guidance on the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk piracy area off the coast of Somalia and adjacent waters was approved by the 89th session of the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). Two documents were produced, one aimed at ship owners, ship operators, and ships masters, the other at flag states, both aimed at addressing the complex issue of the employment of private, armed security on board ships.

Despite a note of caution regarding the possibility vessels may also come under the jurisdiction of port and coastal states’ law, ship owners are advised that flag state laws and regulations apply when private security is employed aboard. Flag states in turn are reminded that they should have a clear policy on the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) aboard their vessels. They should also take into account the possible escalation of violence which could result from the use of firearms and carriage of armed personnel on board ships when deciding on their policies.

The IMO is at pains to point out that its interim advice should not be considered as an alternative to the Best Management Practices and other protective measures to deter piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Arabian Sea area. The organization is openly worried about an escalation of violence if the use of armed guards increases but, as most attacks occur from fast skiffs attacking with machine gun and rocket propelled grenades being fired into the targets superstructure, many may consider the pirate gangs fair game. Certainly a reciprocal volley of tracer fire from the deck of a tanker into a light skiff is likely to be more frightening, and effective, than the assault on the larger vessel.

The IMO are also keen to avoid these advices as an endorsement of the use of violence against the pirates and point out the potential legal ramifications of such tactics, however they have been forced to act in an attempt to impose some sense of order to what promises to otherwise be a free for all with different nations, and indeed shipping lines, adopting ad hoc policies in their response to the threat. More statements on the subject can be expected at the IMO’s September meeting.

According to our calculations the chances of a container vessel or bulk freight ship being attacked in the ‘at risk’ zone over the past year is approximately one in a thousand. These odds however are reducing rapidly with a 20% or more increase in attacks year on year. The use of safe rooms or ‘citadels’ has greatly improved the chances of a successful outcome, as has registering with the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA)and reporting to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Dubai. It is essential that masters follow the Best Management Practices when passing through pirate waters.

The increase in attacks which has led to shipping lines looking toward increased security has spawned a new and profitable industry for the handful of, mostly British, companies which offer suitable training for would be security guards. As affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down there is no shortage of ex military personnel looking for regular employment and, although doubtless less lucrative than those conflicts, many ex Royal Marines and Special Boat Service operatives will view a possibly less hazardous posting across the Gulf of Aden with a certain relish, particularly if suitably armed.

Whilst meeting, the MSC also agreed guidelines to assist in the investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships, which are intended to be used in conjunction with existing resolutions. The guidelines are intended to assist an investigator to collect evidence, including forensic evidence, to support the submission of written reports which may assist in the subsequent identification, arrest and prosecution of the pirates that held the vessel and crew captive. Formats for crew statements and logging of evidence are included, as well as guidelines on recovery and packaging of exhibits such as blood, clothing and weapons.

Such information is essential as we have witnessed countless pirates released for lack of prima facie evidence, not to mention those freed simply because no state was prepared to prosecute. The reaction of different nations to these acts of piracy are markedly different, if the EU’s Navfor force capture a suspected pirate gang you can be sure every procedure is scrupulously followed and often the alleged miscreants released for lack of evidence. The navies of other states are prone to shoot first and establish the details afterwards as we have witnessed in several incidents.

For those interested in the growth of British private security companies training anti pirate personnel Peter Apps of Reuters published an excellent piece earlier this month which can be seen HERE.

To read more about previous pirate reports simply type pirate in the news search box at the top of the page.