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Maritime Piracy – Destroying Dignity, Affecting Communities and Hindering Growth.

Submitted by on 19 Oct 2012 – 15:47

By Rob Lomas, Secretary General, Intercargo

Piracy – a scourge to all

Maritime Piracy is now entering a transitional period.
Although the number of seafarers and ships seized has declined, the incidence of attacks remains high and increasingly violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, as opposed to the traditional “Somalia” based piracy, gives great cause for concern.

For shipowners in the sector which Intercargo represents – Bulk Carriers carrying grain, coal etc, the priority remains the safety of seafarers. Since 2008, 39 Bulk Carriers and 886 of their seafarers have been seized but we are only one sector of many.

As to the background, human ingenuity is more than capable of transferring from one region to another, the violent and self-centred “skills” of the contemporary pirate. It is in countries where the rule of law is hampered that piracy flourishes. Where it does, the local citizens usually come off second best.

Co-operative action – will there be a solution ?

Given that many communities and individuals already have an awareness of piracy although sometimes with an inability to link the effect and world trade and hence their own economic circumstances, some observers now believe that with reinforced efforts, it will be possible to eradicate piracy. What’s happening to give cause to that perception ?

In the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean, the shipping industry and Governments have taken steps to contain piracy and to plan for the time when Somalia can move forward from this era of instability. Anecdotally, many citizens are showing weariness with the pirate’s hedonistic and community-destroying activities. Through targeted measures, the international community can help achieve the aspirations of the many.

Warships – an instrument of regional stability

Governments have shown great decisiveness in providing Naval Forces to disrupt piracy. In particular, tribute must be paid to the EUNAVFOR and NATO whose role includes the protection of the World Food Programme ships.

In combination with other measures, warships have played their part in reducing attacks – 69 in Somalia in 1H2012, compared with 163 in 1H2011. Without being complacent in a regime where 35 seafarers lost their lives to pirates in 2011 and seafarers are being held for longer periods, cautious extrapolation shows pirates are becoming less successful. The Shipping Industry itself has taken steps to protect its seafarers, especially for ships like tankers and bulk carriers which are especially vulnerable to pirate attacks.

These have included the development of Best Management Practices “BMP 4”, where 23 organisations have agreed to promote the benefits of “Best Practice” ship-hardening measures and a co-operative regime for Navies. Programmes preparing seafarers and their families for transit have also been developed.

Cost-wise, the Shipping Industry has in some cases, re-routed ships or steamed at full speed. The overall cost cannot be easily calculated but a figure in the region of USD 7 billion has been suggested – all of which is borne by consumers.

Armed Guards – their role and limitations

With Navies having limited resources, many shipowners have reluctantly used Armed Guards. To get the regulatory regime in line with the current reality, legal and other issues are being addressed by the UN, the International Maritime Organization and through individual Governments. The ISO is developing standards to address certification and rules for Armed Guards.
But Intercargo is concerned about the risk of institutionalisation. The military offer a much greater legal certainty and in addition, warships can have a supplementary role as the initial legal facilitator in capturing and handing over alleged pirates for trial.


Historically, armed-robbery as opposed to violent pirate attacks using firearms to attack cargo ships has been a problem within region (for which we will inaccurately use the term Somalia as a synonym) for many years.

The current Transitional Federal Government has gained a small, but increasing control of territory through the support from the African Union AMISON forces. Other military incursions have put pressure on Al-Shabaab controlled territory, within which, the inherent lawlessness indirectly allows the financiers and pirates to flourish.

The increased costs of shipping have in peripheral regions have raised the costs of goods by 30 to 40%. Let’s not forget that some of these countries themselves are suffering from severe instability and economic turmoil.

For the international community, preventing these countries becoming another post-1991 Somalia by eradicating piracy is not just a morally desirable outcome. It will undoubtedly represent value for money through encouraging regional stability and trade growth.

Ransoms – essential for seafarers

Intercargo’s message to governments considering banning ransoms is very clear – legally and morally, owners should continue to be allowed to make them in order to secure the release of seafarers.

Nobody wants to see ransoms paid but measures to ban them are a distraction to the overall objective of eradicating piracy. With the UN and agencies now having greater intelligence about the financiers and with the Shipping Industry ready to offer mutually co-operative support, the effect of unilateral action in banning ransoms is doomed to failure. Even for Governments with very few if any, of “their” seafarers transiting the High Risk Area, banning ransoms will be legally ineffective and will merely exacerbate the problem in nations where seafaring is a way of life. Hostages lives will be put in danger through a ransom ban and world trade will be affected – to the detriment of all.

The positive influence of Government

Governments have committed money and resources into creating regional stability. Their vision is for a Somalia where a functional Government is able to re-gain control of resources such as fishing for the benefit of their citizens. Ending piracy will show the effectiveness of international assistance in achieving a position where piracy plays no part. Due legal process for the relatively small number of pirates – especially those that have caused harm to captured seafarers must be part of that cathartic process encouraging the return to normality.

In the meantime, Governments, Flag States and humanitarian private aid agencies should be given more credit for their role – especially when it has had a positive effect leading to the release of captured seafarers.
It always seems surprising that the costs of providing warships cannot be offset against the benefits of a donating Government’s aid or trade budget, when they do so much to eradicate piracy and encourage regional stability.

The end-game : an eradication of piracy

But bottom line, let’s not forget the seafarers bringing goods to virtually every consumer on Earth. We can, if we set our minds to it, tip piracy into the history books. Around 288 seafarer hostages of many nationalities currently experiencing harsh conditions and their families, can only re-join the world if piracy is eradicated. We must not think that this is too much to ask.