By Geir Lyngheim Olsen
While global piracy is constantly changing, modern technology adapts to exploit weaknesses in the pirates‚Äô mode of operations. Intelligence gained from such technologies enables voyage planners and navigators to steer clear out of harm ¬≠‚Äì but what kind of information is required?
The image of the Somalian pirate is still high on the public‚Äôs mind as the number one piracy threat. The reality, however, is not quite as straightforward.
Pirates have had to change their tactics in the last few years, including a geographical expansion to the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, including the waters off Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Cameroon and Lagos. However, pirates are not shy of extending their roaming to Angola and Congo and seizing opportunities arising from political instability in Syria, Egypt and Libya. Beyond these areas too, from India and Indonesia to Peru and the Philippines, piracy is still a threat.
This geographical expansion is just one reaction to the presence of Navy task forces around the Gulf of Aden. Another is their use of ‚Äúmother ships‚Äù operating from calm and open sea areas such as in the South Atlantic. Neither do pirates limit themselves to hostage taking and ransom anymore but are also stealing high-value cargo from oil or gas tankers. Offshore installations, around Nigeria for instance, have also become an attractive target, as have support vessels. Many platforms and small vessels used for crew transfer remain unprotected and can be easy prey.
Intelligence ‚Äì the premium piracy countermeasure
However, while piracy has evolved, so have its countermeasures. Beside armed guards and navy protection, which are still an effective deterrent, e-Navigation solutions can provide valuable information to help seafarers avoid an encounter.
This is well proven by Jeppesen‚Äôs Piracy Update, an electronic chart overlay available for ECS and ECDIS that helps identify, understand and manage the risks associated with crime at sea. Winner of the Safety at Sea award in 2010 and based on intelligence from recognized and authoritative sources on global sea piracy, it is used by mariners, ship owners and operators, insurers and several national navies to reduce the likelihood of vessel attack.
As pirates rely on certain sea states to operate, weather information is an essential element of anti-piracy data. Jeppesen OceanView is a marine planning software combining navigational charts, weather information and automatic route planning to create a more comprehensive picture for decision support in high risk areas.
That said, we have to keep in mind that too much information can sometimes be as harmful as too little. Feedback from Piracy Update and OceanView customers helped us to optimize and streamline the voyage planning process within our free-to-use NauticalManager software, which aggregates both weather and piracy data into a lean and user-friendly interface.
The benefits of advanced intelligence tools
As a second officer aboard an offshore PSV/tug vessel, I was charged by my captain and towmaster to do voyage planning for the tow of a jack-up rig from Ammenam field in Nigeria to Ghana. At the time, we had no electronic planning means ‚Äì except for an ECS, planning had to be done on paper charts. I had to take into account the latest intelligence report shared orally by the towing master and look for certain weather and wave patterns. The weather forecasts came in the shape of Internet printouts. During the planning there were sudden indications that piracy activities were extending beyond ‚Äúsafe offshore distance‚Äù. This meant that I had to re-plan the whole voyage and the entire process ended up taking two days.
Today, with a tool like Jeppesen NauticalManager ‚Äì I can incorporate daily piracy activity notices with up to date weather information. In Oceanview I can also set ‚Äúalarm limits‚Äù for weather conditions (e.g. wave height). This would reduce the time required to create a complete voyage plan from two days down to 20 minutes, and adapting to new circumstances would take minutes instead of hours.
In my experience, the integration of electronic nautical charts with information such as weather and piracy and e-Navigation software yields significant benefits for the mariner. It not only optimizes voyage safety and fuel efficiency, but also streamlines the entire voyage planning process.
Geir Lyngheim Olsen is a product manager at Jeppesen Marine, specializing in voyage, operations and disruption planning solutions. He has eleven years of experience as a seaman and officer on Search and Rescue and offshore vessels (Anchor Handling Tug Supply and Subsea), including two years operating in volatile maritime regions of Nigeria, Ghana and Angola. Olsen was instrumental in the Singapore Marine Electronic Highway ‚ÄúS100‚Äù sea trials, has served as a delegate and speaker on e-Navigation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), and has had several articles published in leading maritime journals.
He has a Masters Degree in philosophy and ethics from the University of Bergen and a Bachelors Degree in nautical science from Stord/Haugesund University College specializing in offshore technology and project management.