By David Black
There are approximately 25 naval vessels from the European Union and Nato¬† countries, China, Russia, South Korea, India and Japan involved in anti-piracy¬† operations patrolling about 8.3 million square kilometres of the Gulf of Aden¬† and Indian Ocean, an area about the size of western Europe.
For the past five years, a few hundred pirates sailing from a handful of¬† towns on the Somali coast have pushed ever deeper into the Indian Ocean, forcing¬† governments to spend at least $1.3bn trying to control the problem, a figure¬† dwarfed by shipping industry costs estimated at up to $5.5bn.
The biggest single item was the $2.7bn it costs for ships to transit the¬† waters at higher, uneconomic, speeds.
Shippers also spent more than $1bn on private security guards, often armed,¬† often earning much more than the pirates themselves.
The report estimated the total paid in ransoms at $160 million and the¬† re-routing of ships to hug the Indian coast to avoid pirate waters costing $486¬† to $680m.
However, current protective measures are proving effective, the study said.¬† Pirates have never seized a ship travelling faster than 18 knots. Armed private¬† security guards also had a 100 per cent success rate in protecting ships.
Shippers have added barbed wire and an array of other measures to vessels,¬† including “citadels” – armoured safe rooms in which crews can shelter from¬† attack.
That has helped to bring down insurance premiums, although shippers are still¬† paying $635m in extra premiums because of the piracy threat. “A major risk is¬† that complacency sets in if we think piracy is now under control,” said Jens¬† Vestergaard Madsen, a senior researcher on the project. “The piracy problem is¬† still not resolved. Ninety nine per cent of these costs are spent mitigating the¬† problem, not resolving it.”
A former commander of one of the naval forces to operate in the region,¬† retired Rear Admiral Terence McKnight, the US commander of Task Force 151,¬† agrees.
“Piracy is a moneymaking business and they are going to try their hardest to¬† stay ahead of us,” he is quoted as saying on the US Naval Institute website.¬† “They are always looking for tactics to overcome those of ours.”
Stepping into the security gap are private navies such as Typhon and the¬† Convoy Escort Programme.
“To date the only effective commercially available countermeasure has been¬† provided by ride-on guards,” Typhon says in its mission statement. “This¬† protection model provides a quantity of armed personnel to live aboard the¬† client ship for the duration of the transit. However, the client vessels have to¬† detour for their embarkation and disembarkation often at significant cost. The¬† range of protection from pirates is narrow: 400 metres from the ‘target’¬† ship.”
Typhon says its protection begins by “detecting any threats of piracy at long¬† range. It enables Typhon to conduct their transit safely through the network of¬† pirate action groups, advising [ships] of necessary course adjustments to avoid¬† known trouble hot spots.”
Typhon’s concept involves each convoy being supported by the new Regional¬† Anti-Piracy Prosecution & Intelligence Coordination Centre established in¬† the Seychelles this year. Largely funded by the United Kingdom government, the¬† centre targets the piracy groups. Its opening comes as concerns grow about¬† potentially inadequate protection from maritime crime after the withdrawal of¬† the European Union naval force from the region next year.
Convoys will be able to call on satellite surveillance and detection and¬† early warning to identify and assess any suspected threats, and to avoid or¬† deter a pirate threat before it becomes a danger.
“The convoys travel in a protected ‘envelope’ which make it extremely¬† difficult for the pirates to enter the protection zone to launch an attack.¬† Typhon’s policy is always to seek to diffuse and de-escalate any violence,” says¬† the Typhon statement.
If there’s a real threat, the escort ship’s fast patrol boats will “intercept¬† a potential target, engage direct fire weapons or mount a key defence of the¬† client vessel. The use of force is a last resort and is always reasonable and¬† proportionate using the minimum amount of force necessary”, Typhon adds.
Typhon’s chief executive, Anthony Sharp, believes concerns in the insurance¬† industry over the use of on-board security guards will encourage ship owners to¬† opt for the escort option.
International insurance brokers, Marsh, has amended its insurance cover for¬† private maritime security companies to address fears that the use of floating¬† armouries may invalidate current insurance policies.
The armouries are used by on-board guards to offload their weapons before¬† entering port where the possession of firearms by civilians is illegal.
The Marsh global marine practice managing director, Nick Roscoe, recently¬† told the shipping journal Lloyd’s List that unlawful use of third-party¬† armouries could impact insurance policies because a clause in them stipulates a¬† client must carry out business lawfully and a common law principle states that¬† companies cannot profit from their own illegalities.
“Any of these issues could have an impact on using floating armouries and¬† could invalidate its insurance,” Mr Roscoe said. However, not all agree that¬† Typhon’s escort model is viable.
John Cartner, a maritime lawyer and the author of The International Law of¬† the Shipmaster, has blogged: “It seems that Typhon is doing nothing more than¬† displacing armed guards away from the vessels that pay for the protection. The¬† only economic rationale one can see in this kind of arrangement is the marginal¬† ability to protect several vessels with a slightly larger armed guard detachment¬† in a convoy system. To the extent that can be done, these are merely armed¬† guards on waterborne pogo sticks hopping around to where the threat may be.
“Would you rather be on a crew boat [fast patrol boat] with armed guards¬† being chased by an angry pirate or on a real ship with an armed guard detachment¬† being chased by angry pirates? I’ll take the large one, thank you.
“The vulnerability in the scheme is that without spot on intelligence, and a¬† lot more surveillance power than Typhon is likely to have, [there is] no¬† demonstrated betterment to the armed guard system.”
A piracy expert and US navy reserve officer, Lt Cmdr Claude Berube, writing¬† on the US Naval Institute website, observed: “It isn’t clear if the current¬† level of piracy will support [these escort] vessels.”
He says the downwards trend in pirate attacks around the Gulf of Aden “can be¬† attributed to the increased use of private embarked armed security, improved¬† Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, and the creation of¬† international maritime operations in the region.”
He also questions the possible high costs potential clients face as they¬† likely spend long hours waiting to join Typhon convoys, whose timetables might¬† not be convenient to all shipping.