Maritime Community must face up to new methods of pirate attacks in East and West Africa, writes Iro J. Theofanides
Horn of Africa (Somalia)
Attacks off Somalia have fallen by 65 percent to the lowest level since 2009 according to the International Maritime Bureau. The Bureau recognises and endorses the international naval patrols and the use of maritime security as the key elements in warding off hijacks and attacks.
However, according to analysts including RearAdmiral‐Rt (HN) John J.Theophanides), former commandant of the Greek special naval forces, who is general manager of Unified Counter-Piracy Companies, and Deterrence Force Ltd (UNICS), these declining attack numbers can easily go into reverse. The moment that shipping companies or foreign naval forces loosen their siege strategy and let up on the pirates, they will start to hijack ships again. And this time the criminals will be better equipped, use new tactics and come with greater force.
The worldwide placement of anti-piracy guards on board ships began in 2011. In 2009, only 10-20 percent of merchant vessels carried armed or unarmed guards; now, according to some rough estimates it isup to nearly 70 percent. It must be noted that armed guards are not the only reason for the fall in the number of incidents. Security companies adjusting their tactics namely with the use of armed guards with lethal weapons, electronic equipment such as night scopes, better communication and focused doctrine along with the better arming of merchant vessels with razor wires , fences, propeller arrester systems, water cannons and so on, contributed to the decrease in successful attacks.
Concerns over the arming of vessels have long weighed heavily on the shipping industry. Shipping interests consistently stress that no maritime security action is justified in exceeding the use of minimum force; yet, the concept is nowhere fully articulated, nor codified.
Maritime security is amazingly simple but astonishingly complex. Every minor detail and decision can become complicated and at times problematic, giving rise to uncertainty. There is clearly no place for mistrust and indecision when lives are at risk.
As this is a new subject, not many findings and empirical evidence are available. It is a matter of an operation that must be undertaken by highly qualified personnel and management with key knowledge in counter-piracy, counter-terror operations and in detailed, graduated defensive response plans in the face of attack.
Piracy affects the whole of the maritime industry, and thus signifies the need for a globally accepted model of rules and mechanisms for shipping associations, stakeholders, flag states, maritime insurers and the private maritime security industry.
Actually, such a model is in the making. The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) is working on creating an effective set of Rules for the Use of Force (RUF). Peter Cook, founder and security director of SAMI, in concert with 9 Bedford Row International Chambers, organised an international legal conference at which it was pointed out that a model set of RUF in line with the standard contract (BIMCO Guardcon) and common standard (ISO PAS 28007) would provide the appropriate guidance upon which operators could work within a sound legal basis.
To date, we are waiting for the release of the ‘100 Series Rules’. Such rules aim at defining a legal defensive mechanism of armed response during a pirate attack.
This should bring forth a comprehensible set of rules for those ashore at executive levels, such as ship owners, underwrites, flag states and P&I clubs to understand what the response should be in case an exchange takes place out at sea.
Moving to more complex matters, the 100 Series Rules explores the possibility of applying criminal jurisdiction within Territorial Waters (TTWs), Contiguous and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
They also explore the concept of another delicate issue, that is, who is to take the jurisdictional responsibility; which court should be involved, and what would be the implications of killing a foreign national.
“If a crime is committed on board a vessel, flag state laws apply, but if the crime is within the jurisdiction of the coastal state, the criminal jurisdiction of that nation state may prevail, depending on the agreement for primacy of jurisdiction in dealing with the case. Further, if an armed robber (not a pirate as inside TTWs) is killed within the TTWs of a state, the perpetrator of the killing may also become subject to the criminal laws of the coastal state”, according to a statement at the international legal conference on the HQS Wellington in London last February.
Complexities of such importance enhance the need for documented set of rules. The preceding analysis is within the scope of the 100 Series Rules, ensuring that any PCASP action can be justified by law. On the other hand, rules cannot guarantee either legal protection or indemnity.
However, it is not only the maritime industry that has taken its measures. The notorious Somali pirates have adjusted their strategy by standardising “wolf tactics” in order to capture merchant vessels and at the same time take advantage of the darkness of night.
On the other hand, we are presented with a pirate-friendly profile carefully sculpted by a great public relations team. On January 10 2013 Mohamed Abdi Hassan announced his retirement in an interview. “After being in piracy for eight years, I have decided to renounce and quit, and from today on I will not be involved in this gang activity, ” he said to reporters.
Mohamed Abdi Hassan, from Somalia’s pirate region of Hobo, was portrayed as “one of the most notorious and influential leaders, ” in a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. Even though he has not given a reason why he decided to quit his profession, he said he is trying to persuade other pirates to follow in his footsteps.
Piracy is a prosperous business and should not be taken lightly. Nobody should drop his guard; their ambition always remains the same – the capture of a vessel.
“I assure you, that the on-shore pirate organisation is up and running around the clock. Any sign of loosened bridles from the international and maritime community, and successful pirate attacks are back, ” says Admiral Theophanides.
In certain the territorial waters of certain West African countries, mostly between Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon, all counter-piracy operations are awarded by the states to their navies, where only unarmed guards are allowed on board merchant vessels. The oil-rich Gulf of Guinea and the whole of West Africa is highly unstable and with a lot of terrorist activity. West African countries do not allow armed guards in their territorial waters because they fear the entry of illegal weapons and mercenaries.
As a result, pirates in West Africa are well acquainted with the counter piracy capabilities, making them better organised when executing an attack. The sole scope of these pirate attacks is stealing part of the cargo or the cargo in general, making pirates in West Africa extremely vicious. Once they seize a vessel, they have no care about the number of casualties, for they will loot the cargo and leave the ship, as it is, where it is and return to base (shore or sea).
“While there are maritime security problems, the law concerning arms and ammunition is taken very seriously. Be mindful that most of the governments are unstable and attacks to overthrow governments can originate from sea (with armed mercenaries under the guise of providing armed guards for merchant ships). In fact just recently, some Russians were arrested offshore Nigeria bearing arms. They were imprisoned and prosecuted, ” said a representative of a maritime security company in West Africa.
Taking into account the large number of ships sailing in the gulf of West Africa and the vast sea area, existing naval capabilities cannot provide the needed security measures to prevent continuing pirate action.
In other words, the situation in East and West African is not going to change any time soon. Not if the international community of seafarers and nations worldwide fail to decide to take measures against maritime piracy.
In my opinion, IMO and the seafarers’ community must put pressure on West African countries to allow armed guards in their territorial waters.
The loss of cargo always has a value, but the lives of the crew – are always priceless.
It is always preferable to pay a small amount for protection on every trip to prevent a successful hijack and a multimillion-dollar ransom demand.