The fight against piracy wages on

Despite a five-year low in piracy attacks on merchant ships, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned that significant threats still remain, particularly off the coast of East and West Africa. A total of 297 ships were attacked in 2012, compared with 439 in 2011. This reduction was attributed to a huge reduction in Somali piracy; however the seas off East and West Africa remain highly volatile, with 150 attacks in 2012.

The overall reduction in attacks is promising, attributed to the presence of naval forces disrupting pirate operations, the implementation of self-protection methods on-board vessels and increased awareness of where potential threats are located. Despite the new measures, 174 ships were boarded by pirates in 2012, while 28 ships were hijacked and a further 28 were fired upon, according to the IMB.

A joint statement from leading shipping associations* warned that increased anti-piracy measures were required to fight the long term threat of piracy. “[We] remain convinced that the only long-term solution to piracy is to establish effective government and implement the rule of law ashore in Somalia. However, until that is achieved, there can be no room for complacency. Any reduction in the level of protection of merchant ships could lead to a resurgence of pirate activities. Piracy must continue to be suppressed through the visible presence of and robust action by, the world’s navies, consistent with international law.”

The continuing threat has been highlighted by an escalation in attacks off the coast of West Africa. In Nigerian waters, attacks increased from 10 in 2011 to 27 in 2012. In this particular region, there is no UK, EUNAVFOR or US naval presence and as such the UN Security Council has recognised it as a specific threat to international security.

To date, the only other counter-measure available to ship operators, aside from naval protection, has been ride-on armed guards, known as Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs). This protection model provides armed personnel to live aboard the client ship for the duration of transit. Although this method has contributed to the overall decline in attacks, it has limited appeal to the ship operators as vessels still have to detour at great expense to avoid the most volatile areas and remain vulnerable to attack due to a narrow protection range of 400 m.

In light of this, maritime protection agency, Typhon, has announced the launch of a new convoy escort service which enables ship operators to transit the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean with naval-grade protection. Typhon’s newly announced ‘Integrated Protection Model’ incorporates three levels of protection: detecting piracy by sea (using radar), by air (using satellite) and by land (through an onshore operations centre in the UAE).

The concept, mirroring naval protection services, also includes close protection vessels which shadow the client vessel in an ‘umbrella’ formation to identify threats of piracy and create a ‘protection zone’ around the vessel should an attack occur. Anthony Sharp, CEO of Typhon, said, “The areas we will protect are too vast for current naval resources to monitor effectively and this will be an even bigger issue when Operation Atlanta comes to an end. With millions paid out in ransoms to pirates and much more money lost by businesses in fuel costs avoiding pirates, it is important that businesses are granted a safer passage with their cargo through dangerous waters. The benefits to business will be substantial.”

The increasing number of attacks in West Africa emphasises the necessity for further anti-piracy measures and better support for ship operators to eliminate the threat of piracy in the long term. But for now, crews are urged to remain vigilant in the face of the continuing threats.

*International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, the International Assocation of Independent Tanker Owners, the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners, the International Parcel Tankers Association and the International Shipping Federation.