Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pirates Still Active in Indian Ocean as Anniversary of Last Major Bulk Freight Capture Passes

Naval Force Says Stay Vigilant as Private Security Group Gains Formal Credentials
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – UK - SRI LANKA – NORWAY – MALTA – WORLDWIDE – With the threat of piracy much diminished of late comes news of both a timely warning that a real threat to merchant shipping still exists and news of formal accreditation for one of the private companies charged with escorting bulk freight and container vessels through the hazardous waters of the Gulf of Aden.

Just days ago the ESPS Rayo, serving with the EU Naval Force (EU Navfor) spotted a suspect skiff 320 nautical miles from the Somali coastline with a crew of six. A closer inspection revealed the men were not equipped for any form of fishing or trade but were in possession of the paraphernalia usually associated with pirates who ply these waters.

As has happened before there was insufficient evidence to charge the men with any offence but the vessel was seized and the men returned to the Somali shores. The authorities say it is now exactly one year since the last ship, chemical tanker MV Smyrni, was seized by armed pirates off the Somali coast. Thankfully MV Smyrni and her crew were released 2 months ago, after 10 months in captivity. However, since May last year, 9 more ships have been attacked and, with 2 ships and 54 hostages still being held and pirates once again issuing death threats to hostages if ransoms are not paid, it is clear that there is no room for complacency, something the Combined Naval Forces are all keen to emphasise as Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant, explained saying:

“I am very concerned that seafarers and nations will lower their guard and support for counter piracy operations in the belief that the piracy threat is over. It is not; it is merely contained. We should remember that at its height in January 2011, 32 ships were pirated by Somali pirates and 736 hostages were held. It is crucial that we remain vigilant or the number of attacks will once again rise.”

Whilst the navies are keen to emphasise that they will prosecute wherever a reasonable chance of conviction occurs, as evidenced by the recent cases of the legal transfers by the European Union of suspect pirates as reported here to Mauritius and The Seychelles authorities, there must be prima facie evidence sufficient to constitute the basis of a case. Meantime the private security companies which have proliferated in the aftermath of the crisis now have the opportunity to perform to the sort of standards outlined in our recent article covering the use of reasonable force in the case of an incident or attack occurring.

One such group, GoAGT Ltd (Gulf of Aden Group Transits), which says it supplies 20% of the armed personnel teams operating in the Indian Ocean, has lifted the benchmark by achieving Det Norske Veritas (DNV) accreditation for its Maritime Training Centre located in Galle, Sri-Lanka. The centre is one of the first to be accredited globally and can train up to 20 personnel at any one time in a variety of maritime security disciplines including Use of Force and Medical Training. GoAGT, headquartered in Malta, has been delivering in-house training at the centre to its deployed teams since 2010. Former Royal Navy Captain Gerry Northwood OBE, Chief Operating Officer of GoAGT, commented:

“The achievement of DNV certification lays the foundation for the creation of a world-class maritime security training centre. GoAGT is currently working closely with City and Guilds to become one of the first training centres globally to offer the new Maritime Security Officer course, which [we believe] will become the benchmark training course for Maritime Security professionals.”

The GoAGT Training Centre will be running its pilot MSO course later this month. The new level 3 City and Guilds qualification is set to become a core requirement for compliance with the new industry standard for armed maritime security provision, ISO/PAS 28007. Having successfully achieved ISO9001 certification in 2012, GoAGT is currently working closely with LRQA to become one of the first companies to be accredited to the new standard due to be launched in June.

Photo: The crew from the Rayo's RIB inspect the suspect skiff.