Maritime Security: The challenging war of piracy attrition
by Steven Jones, Maritime Correspondent, Security News Desk
The global position on piracy appears to have shifted dramatically in the last 18 months. From the constant fear of attack, there appears to be something more of a grim war of attrition developing. So what is the current state of play?
The Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) project last month convened a meeting of 35 maritime experts to discuss the current state of maritime piracy off the east and west coasts of Africa.
The focus was on finding a path to a coordinated and joined up approach to piracy. There were four key areas under consideration: developing an operational response, ensuring the rule of law is fit for purpose, the direction of vessel self-defence and what can be expected by way of international support.
These four key issues were transposed onto two key areas of OBPs research, The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and Horn of Africa (HoA). Highlighting what is working and can work, but also flagging up concerns or issues which are hampering the fight against piracy.
According to OBP, there are some signs of progress in the GoG region. The spike in kidnapping for ransoms which were seen in the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 appear to have been reduced. This is due to a combination of increased patrols by the Nigerian Navy, increased use of contracted security and a refocus of attacks away from piracy at sea and more towards inland infrastructure.
The operational response in the region has seen regional nations increasingly willing and able to respond to piracy attacks. Sadly, there are still problems. There is considerable frustration that regional justice systems are still not seemingly holding pirates accountable. A commitment to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate pirates sends a signal of resolve, this appears to be weak in the GoG.
Over in the Horn of Africa, there are concerns that piracy gangs are still organised and retain the capability and intent to attack international shipping. It is the opinion of OBP that these criminal networks are currently focused on other criminal activity, but are watching to see if conditions at sea become favourable again for piracy attacks.
International forces remain committed to support countries in the Horn of Africa/Western Indian Ocean region to deal with piracy, and the presence of navies is heartening. However, there are concerns that capacity building plans for regional forces are still many years from effectively suppressing piracy on their own.
While the OBP meeting saw cause for hope, it should be remembered that the piracy problems persist. Just last month the chemical tanker “Hanze Kochi” was attacked by pirates in Gulf of Guinea off Brass, Nigeria.
A group of armed men approached the vessel in early morning by fast boat. The duty officer raised alarm for piracy attack and all the crew locked in the citadel. A distress call was sent to the Nigerian navy. The pirates boarded the ship and took control, but the navy sent two boats with guards.
The pirates ransacked and robbed from the accommodation, but had no time due to approaching navy guards. They abandoned the tanker some minutes later and fled to the shore. The Nigerian navy freed the vessel and crew.
A chilling illustration of how seafarers and vessels are still targeted and remain vulnerable. It also shows the importance of the defensive measures and means of responding, that are so important. Raising the alarm, retreating effectively into a citadel, and having the navy react seem to have possibly saved lives and the vessel in this case.
With gathering such as OBP, it seems that reflection is rife regarding piracy and the safety of seafarers. While it is good to contemplate what has happened, to find successes and analyse weaknesses, there is a danger that we are not anticipating future trends.
Critics are quick to point out that an industry gathering on piracy that does not assess SE Asia is perhaps likely to miss key issues. So what are the challenges for shipping?
According to experts, the challenge is not any one security threat – it is about understanding them all. It is about intelligence and information-sharing. With knowledge, data and reporting, there is no need to fight alone or to become trapped in lonely furrows or fighting on new frontiers.
If shipping can record, report and receive timely, accurate and useful information – then there is a chance to do the right thing. Sadly, as we have seen time and again, shipping is not very good at this most basic and simple of tasks.
We do not know how many stowaways there are globally, our industry data on abandonments is pitiful, and our accident reports are incomplete. Intelligence may well be key, but until that describes the people charged with data gathering, we may be fighting a losing battle.