One of the hottest topics in the shipping business – and a recent report by MTI Network, a global maritime media crisis management group, has highlighted some major points – below we have taken some highlights from this report.
Some 22,000 ships a year pass through the Gulf of Aden, heavily involved in the oil trade and trade from Asia to Europe. Unfortunately, concerns of piracy now dominate operational agendas and commercial decisions as well as the hearts and minds of owners, managers and especially seafarers.
Recent figures from the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre for 2010
cited 1,818 seafarer abductions world wide. Activity by Somali pirates remains the dominant threat with 1,016 crew members taken hostage by pirates in this region and 49 vessels hijacked.
Figures as of February 2011 show 717 people and 33 ships being held by off the coast of Somalia with 14 ships of which have been hijacked this year.
Some of the key findings reported by MTI, a global maritime media crisis management group shows:
- Slow vessels with low crew numbers and inadequate watch keeping are most vulnerable to attacks.
- Crew have approximately 15 minutes to respond to an attack from the moment a skiff is spotted to when the ship is under control of the pirates
- Mother Ships are used to stage attacks further out to sea and incidents have occurred some 1300nm from the Somali coast.
- Once captured average detention periods for a ship are between 2-5 months
- Average ransom figures have increased dramatically, from $750,000 in 2008 to current averages of $5.4 million USD, with $9 million USD the highest ever paid
- First quarter 2011 has seen an increase in the violence used towards hostages in an attack and in captivity
- Ensuring strong and timely communications and keeping relatives informed, secure, comfortable and reassured is essential in handling a crisis effectively.
Piracy in the Media
It is absolutely vital that the details of negotiations taking place are never discussed with the media. This could jeopardise the safety of the crew and the validity of the negotiations.
From previous experience it has emerged that Pirates have real time access to internet news outlets and satellite telephones – so any news released must be carefully considered.
Details of crews and relatives should never be given out by relatives; although it seems that the Philippines authorities are happy to give details of overseas contracts to any journalist, if asked.
Hijacking hot points for media attention
- attack/attempted attack
- once hijacked, there will be a lull and journalists will work on the human interest angle by contacting relatives or ex-employees.
- Vessel release. The first port of call will have journalists wanting to talk to crews, looking for info on ransom amount paid etc. Should be avoided at all costs.
Armed guards – The Debate
While MTI believes that each company should be responsible for establishing their own policy regarding safety at sea. We feel it is prudent to make clients aware of some of the key arguments in the debate over how best to protect your ship and crew, should your security strategy ever be called into question by the media.
Arguments in favour of Private Security
- Armed guards on board ships act as a strong deterrent to pirates
- Non-violent defence has proved unsuccessful, while no ship with armed guards onboard has ever been hijacked.
- Private military personnel are trained specialists usually with military backgrounds
- Convoys are largely ineffective as different vessels have different requirements and travel at different speeds
- It is impossible to be part of a Naval convoy in every area of water where piracy is a risk
Arguments against Private Security
- Cases of mistaken identity have already occurred, such mistakes can damage your reputation and create law suits and criminal proceedings
- Private Military Contractors (PMC‟s) are not State controlled armed forces
- Weapons on board ships could easily lead to an arms race
- If pirates capture a vessel after being shot at or wounded it could aggravate conditions for captives
- P&I clubs and Flag States in some cases may not allow armed security or guns to travel on board the vessel.
- In some instances non-lethal evasive measures have proven effective such as evasive manoeuvring and Citadel Tactics
- If under attack it is unclear as to who would be in charge of the vessel and its crew if there is armed security on board.
Naval Escorts and Convoys
Vessel operators are advised to register their details with the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa where military and merchant navy personnel from countries around the world can advise and coordinate the safest route through the Gulf of Aden (http://www.mschoa.org).
There is a real moral complexity surrounding any decision to pursue a military solution over the payment of ransom.
Would you be in favour of rescuing hostages kidnapped? Few have been successful and reports by Associated Press have highlighted a ruthless development from the Pirates in response to rescue attempts; with one pirate saying: “Killing hostages has now become part of our rules”.
Shipboard Citadels are intended to provide all crew members with a safe space where they can retreat to in the event of a hijacking. Common spaces utilised as Citadels include the Engine Control Room, E/R workshops or the Steering Gear space.
Consideration for effective primary and secondary communication systems is important and such equipment must be capable of being used from within the Citadel. Citadel retreat drills are conducted in order familiarise persons with the process.
Potential Questions in the case of a Hijacking
When considering your company crisis response strategy it is also important to consider how you would respond when faced with challenging questions from the media. The answers you give can have significant impact on your company reputation and public image.
- Have the pirates been in contact? How much are they demanding? Do you believe that lives are in danger or is this just a negotiating tactic? Do you feel there’s a moral dimension in dealing with hijackers? How much can you afford to pay? Will you negotiate with pirates? Will you pay the ransom? You are an extremely rich company. How much is the life of a crew member worth?
- How many seafarers are on board? Has anyone been hurt? Is it true that the crew members have been threatened? What nationality are they? What are their names? What is being done to support their families?
- Why do you sail this route if you know these waters are infested with pirates? Surely you cannot be surprised by this? Will you continue to sail this route in the future?
- Why do you not arm you crew or provide them with adequate security? What security measures were taken to prevent this hijacking? Were the crew forced to sail this route? Who made the decision to sail this route? Would you support any attempt by naval forces to free the captive crew?
- What cargo is the vessel carrying? Is the cargo hazardous? Who is the charterer? How much is the cargo worth? What type of insurance do you have that would cover a situation like this?
When considering company crisis response strategy it is also important to consider how you would respond when faced with these questions. What questions would you answer/ not answer and are you prepared with relevant and accurate information should you wish to release any information?
The emphasis must be on the importance of being prepared when it comes to travelling through piracy plagued waters.
- Ensure your company has an effective media strategy in place to cope with the immediate and long term interest from journalists and the public
- Make sure you have a plan for how you are going to respond to media pressure. Who would be the company spokesperson? Are you prepared to deal with reporters from many different countries? Do you have a support mechanism for families