by Benjamin Stevens
Much as it makes me feel as though I’m telling a small child the truth about Santa Claus, piracy in today’s merchant service is no gang of grizzly Geoffery Rush types eating apples and running about with daggers between their teeth. The romantic notion of piracy that Disney and others have built into our minds is far from the reality of high-seas terror‚Äîand in today‚Äôs world, piracy plays the same deadly game as terrorism.
Without passing the Vessel Security course on our first week of summer cruise, we would not be allowed to cruise. We are taught to take it very seriously even as freshmen, especially considering that we stand the port security and ship security watches when on cruise.
At the time we took our vessel security course in May, there were about 53 hostages in the hands of Somali pirates alone. Well over half of the world’s commerce travels through the Straight of Malacca, one of the riskiest channels when it comes to piracy. It’s a very prominent issue that lacks media coverage compared to the conflict in Syria, political schemes, NSA nonsense and Kim Kardashian’s ridiculous name for her baby.
Public awareness of piracy remains low, but the effect it has on families of victims grows. Certainly the navies of various nations patrol the oceans, but piracy continues nonetheless.
There was a lot to learn about standing security watches on the pier and on the ship. We discussed some of the many ways to smuggle armaments aboard a ship, particularly when there is no metal detector to help out. A photographer might keep the barrel of a rifle in his tripod bag, and it would look like a tripod leg to the watchman searching the bag. He might also keep his sniping scope in a lens case, and the security guard would see only a camera lens. A group of people with ill-will in mind might split their weapons up to make them less conspicuous.
We were taught how to recognize someone with trouble in mind: nervous behavior, indirect movements, avoiding eye contact, wringing of hands or some other nervous twitch and many others. This is only the beginning of our security training; it will continue in the years to come.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize vessels that might be engaged in piracy. When you stand on the bridge of a 500-foot-long vessel, you don’t feel insecure. Seventy feet above the water, you feel like the king of the world. It’s that small little sailboat, however, that can slip up behind you and catch you unawares. Or maybe that fishing vessel over yonder actually has 30 desperate and ready-to-die pirates aboard. It’s important to recognize all aspects of piracy and learn how to counter them.
With dangers such as these, it is good to know that we have training to handle piracy. Just as we train to handle engine failure, traffic crises, crew issues and vessels in distress, we train to counter any trouble that would threaten the security of our vessel.
Benjamin Stevens of Islesford just finished his sophomore year at Maine Maritime Academy and participated in the State of Maine’s annual training voyage. He also is a participant in The Working Waterfront/Island Institute’s student journalism program, supported by a grand from the Eaton Foundation.