As piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia continue, the actual number of successful hijacks has fallen. This is in no small part due to the effectiveness of private maritime security companies, and many ship owners have now made the difficult decision to “go armed”. This deterrent’s 100 percent success rate means that thousands of seafarers have avoided capture by pirates. It would be premature to even believe that we have seen the end of piracy in the region, but the perhaps the successes do suggest that we have reached the end of the beginning. Steven Jones, Maritime Director, The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) writes:
Against this backdrop, it is reassuring to see that the shipping and security industries are both striving for a credible deterrent against piracy, and are prepared to invest in the appropriate certification and standards for private contractors to guarantee proper conduct at sea. While there have been operational positives, there have also been great strides made in the wider maritime security industry and the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) has been working on a range of vital issues.
Flag States increasingly accept the concept while the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is addressing the aspect of standards. So the armed response appears set to stay and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been further developing guidance for the use of armed guards, and has now passed this work over to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
ISO will now develop standards for certification of PMSCs and the route to ISO 28007 will see the development of a “publicly available specification” (PAS), which is a fast-track process to development of a standard.
Much of the development work has already been done, with SAMI leading the way on a number of fronts. As the new ISO process develops SAMI is engaged on the national perspective within the British Standards (BSi) Committee (SME 32), and also on the international front, with the ISO 28007 Drafting Committee having held its first meeting in July 2012.
As SAMI sits on the relevant ISO and BSi Committees then the association expects to be heavily involved in the writing of the ISO and will, as a consequence, be able to incorporate any new elements or requirements introduced to the ISO into the SAMI Standard.
There have been many questions from certified SAMI PMSCs, and while completion of the SAMI programme will not immediately translate currently into ISO Certification, it will put PMSCs in a much better position to achieve a streamlined move into ISO 28007 status.
Membership of SAMI will then also provide a number of additional benefits, over and above those normally associated with certified status. SAMI provides a global focal point on security issues for the shipping industry, and members are also granted access to a new services portal, the BRIDGE.
The maritime security environment has been evolving rapidly, and SAMI has been at the vanguard of these developments and is well placed to progress as an organisation and for its members.
As the standards emerge and with the use of armed guards on the increase, what will the effect on pirate behaviour be in this high-stakes contest? In the long term, what will be the next step in the piracy problem’s evolution? It is clearly still too good a business for the pirates to drop out of the market, and as British Rear Admiral Duncan Potts — Commander of the EU’s anti-piracy task force (EUNAVFOR) — recently warned, any gains made against pirates are reversible. There is a danger in thinking we have piracy “cracked”.
Somali pirates will continue to adapt to the security measures employed by the shipping industry. They are adaptable, skilled and shrewd — dangerous opponents in every sense.
In future it is also anticipated that offshore vessels operating along the coast of East Africa are increasingly under risk of attack by pirates. They are believed to be the latest targets for pirates as commercial activities in the region increase, with new East Africa oil and gas discoveries driving an offshore boom.
Offshore vessels such as drill ships, platform supply vessels and seismic vessels are particularly vulnerable because they are slow-moving and easy to board. These are expensive technical vessels and they often carry large numbers of high-value Western crew on board.
As the oil and gas activity picks up, the proliferation of such vessels doing “strange things” such as stopping dead in the water to drill, survey, or conduct diving operations will increase. Such behaviour is exactly the opposite of that needed to safeguard them against piracy. One only has to look at the lessons in the fourth version of the EU-endorsed best practices guide for protection against Somali piracy — known as “BMP4” — to see the risk of doing so. It will require a completely new security mindset to police and safeguard these vessels.
Yet whilst the battles will continue to be fought out on the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, many feel the war will only be won by addressing the root of the problem ashore: an insecure Somalia and of breaking the business model and cycle which drives more young Somalis out to sea.
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