Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Piracy Attacks on Merchant Shipping Down but Concern Over Surplus Weapons Whereabouts

Hot Spot Moves to Asia as Private Security Personnel Reduced
Shipping News Feature
SOUTH EAST ASIA – AFRICA – As detailed in our August article, despite an overall global reduction in serious piracy attacks this year, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) cautions against complacency in its 2015 report for the year to 30 September which shows that attacks remain a serious concern to shippers in South East Asia. To date 190 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against merchant shipping and other vessels have been officially counted worldwide this year, the greatest number in Indonesia, which tallied 86 mainly low-level incidents, followed by Vietnam with 19 low-level reports.

Focusing on Southeast Asia, a piracy crackdown appears to be bearing fruit, with only two hijackings reported in the third quarter of the year. Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have also arrested and in some cases prosecuted, members of product tanker hijacking gangs, notably those behind the MT Sun Birdie and MT Orkim Harmony attacks. Pottengal Mukundan, IMB Director, said:

“The robust actions taken particularly by the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities – including the arrest of one the alleged masterminds – is precisely the type of deterrent required”.

The two hijackings, on a small product tanker in the Straits of Malacca and a fishing vessel 40-miles west of Pulau Langkawi, were among 47 incidents the IMB PRC recorded globally between July and September. Elsewhere, while only one new incident of an actual attack was reported for the last quarter in the Gulf of Guinea, however the IMB believes the real number to be considerably higher with under reporting still a major issue in the area.

No incidents have been noted off Somalia or in the Gulf of Aden this year, previously a piracy hotspot. The IMB says the positive development reflects the combined efforts of navies in the region, along with greater compliance with the Best Management Practices guidelines against Somali piracy, the employment of private security contractors and a stabilising government. Suspected Somali pirates continue to hold 29 crew members for ransom.

The report urges vessels to maintain vigilance, noting the ‘increasingly fragile’ situation ashore Somalia, with the threat of piracy ‘not eliminated’. In all, this year so far has seen 154 vessels boarded, 21 attempted attacks and 15 vessels hijacked globally. A total of 226 crew were taken hostage, 14 assaulted, 13 injured, 10 kidnapped and one killed. The threat of the return of maritime violence is one which the merchant shipping community is being asked to remain aware of.

One other problem comes with the downturn in violence, as private security personnel are laid off and the vessels they served on withdrawn from service, there are reports of quantities of arms coming on the market as they become redundant, yet another argument for the use of proper insurance in the form of naval involvement as with the EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta and Combined Task Force 151 engagements in the Indian Ocean.

According to Estonian headquartered ESC Global Security (ESCGS) it has been common practice for private maritime security companies to rent from, or store weapons aboard, floating armouries operating in international waters. The report Floating Armouries: Implications and Risks, commissioned by the Remote Control Project and published in December 2014 found that ‘none of the vessels currently used as floating armouries have been purpose-built as an armoury, instead, they are adapted craft. As a result, vessels may not have safe and secure storage for arms and ammunition’.

The report called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take on the task of ‘monitoring all floating armouries and the companies that operate and use them’. The first steps to regulate the weapons rental market are being taken with flag states beginning to implement measures to ensure the weapons used are only those owned or licensed by the PMSC hired by the shipowner.

ESCGS says however whilst this might help towards preventing the use or rental of ‘unlawful’ weapons, it is likely that the vessel’s master will become responsible for checking license documents against weapon serial numbers prior to security personnel boarding the vessel. The company estimates about 15,000 weapons and four million rounds of ammunition could be stored in Indian Ocean armouries alone with the weapons stored being typically small arms and semi-automatic, long-range rifles. ESCGS Chief Operating Officer Madis Madalik commented:

“The past four years has seen the number of licensed PMSCs more than halve, as companies reel from a reduced requirement for security aboard vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, and more are expected to go under. If the floating armouries go out of business or if their clients are unable to pay to get their weapons back for decommissioning or proper disposal, then what will these armourers do with them: throw them overboard, sell them? This is a major concern [and] the lack of regulation here has the potential to irrevocably damage the reputation and credibility of the entire PMSC industry.”