African piracy latest trends

April 15, 2013 at 03:15 by Mikhail Voytenko in Maritime Security

I’m closely monitoring industry and major media on matters maritime, including of course piracy, and couldn’t but notice recent surge in publications devoted to the ever present danger of Somalia pirates. Most of the publications are of the alarming nature, warning shipowners not to become too complacent. “There are clear signs, that we are going to see a resurgence of piracy this month”, claimed the ICS recently, just out of blue sky, it seems.

Quite some time ago I assumed that the piracy statistics are not trustworthy anymore, with private armed guards coming into a play, and many masters and shipowners unwilling to report the attacks due to a number of reasons, among them the cumbersome task of filling in the forms required by navies and IMB, legal fears and obvious uselessness of IMB system of reporting and statistics. That idea of mine was welcomed, though of course not credited to me, by navies, officialdom and by security agencies, the latter being worried by a declining clientele. Some of the officially recognized experts and institutions went so far as to gather enough of boldness to affront the IMB with criticism, as if I didn’t do it for years.
“While the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is supposedly performing just such a role, it seems there are increasing frustrations concerning the organization and what one observer recently stated as a, “failure to report incidents” and a lack of information on risk evaluation and mitigation”. http://www.shiptalk.com/?p=14137
Welcome to the real world, guys, you finally woke up, better late than never.

Putting IMB aside, what’s going on in Indian ocean, and why such a panic over looming Somalia piracy resurrection? The answer is all too obvious, if look at the sources of red alarm. They are, predictably, officialdom, navies and security agencies. Officialdom, with UN in the lead, still hopes to profit from “fighting the piracy” and “eliminating the piracy roots”. Navies just don’t want to lose year-through exercises and the fun of it, and what’s more important, all States which sent the Navies to Indian ocean are interested not in shipping safety, but in their military presence in one of the most strategically important regions of the world, in or near Persian Gulf. Worries of the security business don’t need any explanation, it’s all too obvious.
But there is a problem, though. From time to time I’m asked by shipowners whose vessels sporadically transit Suez and Indian ocean, to advise on the piracy threat. A year ago I could provide them with more or less reliable information on piracy threat, with details of latest attacks. For already quite a time, it became impossible. On the face of it, former dangerous areas are now more or less safe. Nearly total absence even of suspect activity and attacks, and total lack of hijacks lead us to believe, that the piracy threat is as good as non-existent. Hopefully, this is the case, but we can’t be sure yet.

Some important pieces of information, required for analysis, are missing – such as reliable statistics of attacks and reliable information on Somalia itself. Obviously, some serious changes took place recently on the land, affecting pirates to an unknown extent. We just can’t contribute such a sharp decline in piracy, actually the extinction of it, to private armed guards (and to some extent, to navies) only. Something happened in Somalia, something good let’s hope. But we don’t know for sure. All we know are the alarming news of possible piracy revival, based on pure speculations, without any facts given. Well, there are facts scattered here and there, though of different nature, not in the least alarming. Like the one revealed recently by EUNAVFOR, in which the master of a Yemeni dhow operating along the coast of Somalia and Yemen in the Gulf of Aden told an EUNAVFOR team, that he had not seen any pirate activity in the region in the last two years.

There is one very important fact to be taken into account. Let’s assume during last 12 months some 70-80 percent of the vessels transiting dangerous areas were protected by private armed guards. What about the rest? By random attacks, be the number of attacks comparable to the number registered in peak times, pirates surely would figure out, and hijack, defenceless  vessels. It didn’t happen and it doesn’t happen, meaning there are fewer, if any at all, pirates on the hunt.

Apparently, the situation greatly improved and the threat is much less than it was before, if any at all, but we can’t be sure, lacking the information. We won’t get any reliable information just because all those who’re capable of collecting the information in question, from Navies to IMB/IMO, from insurers to private security agencies, are interested in piracy existence. They seem to be so interested, that I won’t be surprised if they’d organize a hijack and give the hijacked vessel to pirates as a present, begging the pirates to go on with this, very profitable to so many, business. Be I pirate, I’d demand from all interested parties, from UN and World Bank to insurers and private security, my bite of their pie. I’m sure they’d agree.

Still, we do have one source of reliable and important for shipping information, it’s the absence of hijacks, with no signals of piracy reappearance so far. We don’t understand fully why Somalia piracy is extinct, but we see the results. One fact is obvious – be pirates as active as they were before, they’d find ways to hijack defenceless vessels and avoid armed ones long time ago. It’s nearly a year since the last hijack took place (Suezmax tanker Smyrni was hijacked on May 5 12).

Nevertheless, caution is advised, in form of armed guards, to be hired in some kind of a “light version”, with minimal team down to three guards, and general approach of “cost before other considerations”.

Gulf of Guinea
Gulf of Guinea waters, especially of course, waters of Nigeria, are as dangerous as ever. Again, we’re suffering from the lack of information, let alone analysis. IMB reports are late and insufficient. Companies, whose vessels work in the region on a regular basis, hide the information for a number of reasons, including fears of evoking displeasure of the Nigerian authorities. For example: I’ve got a letter from an officer working on an offshore vessel, according to the information circulated among the vessels of his company, two attacks took place during last week. None were reported by IMB, one was reported by Maritime Bulletin.

Much was said in Maritime Bulletin about the only security agency in Nigerian waters, which is quite effective in defending the ships under its’ protection, and always ready to help other ships when attacked. It’s Intel Security Nigeria http://intelnigeria.com/
Officers of the offshore vessels praise the company as very effective and professional, saying that they feel themselves safe when protected by the agency’s forces. The company protects and operates the Onne port, nothing can be done in there without the company’s permission. All the security staff is native, hired from military or law enforcement agencies. The company itself seems to be a joint venture of European entrepreneurs and Nigerian businessmen, and most probably, high-ranking politicians.

I don’t have any information about any purely foreign security agency licensed to work in Nigerian waters, which is manned by foreign guards. Intel may be fine, but it’s just one company which can hardly provide security for all shipowners willing to protect their vessels, which is especially true for cargo vessels, even if they call Nigerian waters on regular basis. Besides, monopoly has strict laws of its’ existence, sooner or later the quality of services or products goes down, to be replaced with incompetence and corruption.

I suppose that the use of even unarmed guards, if they’re foreigners, may be not only strongly opposed to, but even prosecuted, by the Nigerian authorities.

There is no light in the end of the tunnel which is called Gulf of Guinea. The Code of Conduct maritime bureaucracy is blabbering about, is a pure, untainted by any sensibility, crap. Either African States will be coerced into the legalization of armed guards on board, be they foreign or native, or there won’t be any safety for the shipping in the foreseen future, read an article “The only way to make shipping safe from piracy” http://www.news.odin.tc/index.php?page=view/article/283/The-only-way-to-make-shipping-safe-from-piracy

Meanwhile, I’d like to advise the security industry not to scare the shipping and the public with fairy tales about Somalia piracy, but to support the campaign demanding the legalization of private armed guards throughout the world, by means of international convention.

Voytenko Mikhail
Apr 14 13

African piracy latest trends

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