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Questions of maritime piracy and security

Questions of maritime piracy and security
Maritime piracy and security are not as hot a topic as they were a few years ago, but anyone in the industry who thinks these problems have been solved are deluding themselves.

Last week I spent a day chairing a small maritime security conference, where questions such as - “Will Somali piracy comeback?”, “How can an owner protect his ship from pirates off West Africa?” and “What will happen to the private maritime security companies (PMSC)?” - were hotly debated.

As with most these types of events it probably raised as many questions as it answered, but it did very well illustrate the complexity of the maritime security issue and the fact it is about much more than just Somali piracy.

But on the issue of Somali piracy and whether it could have a resurgence there were differing views, much revolved around whether the combination of factors that are believed to have prompted its rise in the first place are still in play. This then combines with a gradual scaling down of the naval presence in the area and fewer owners using armed guards, which provides greater opportunity to successfully attack ships.

Not surprisingly there was no definitive answer to the question, but there did seem to be a sense that the pirate gangs could ramp up again over a two–three year period if the right circumstances were to come together - or the wrong circumstances from the perspective of shipping.

It would appear to be a concept promoted by the surviving PMSCs. One speaker noted of the reported of attempted attacks reported off Somalia over the last year or so all had come from vessels carrying armed security teams. Which rather begged the question whether the pirates – if that’s what they actually were – chose to attack only vessels with armed guards on them.

This segued somewhat neatly into the state of the somewhat parlous state of the PMSC sector itself. The recent voluntary liquidation of the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI), which essentially provided the standard for insurance cover related to PMSCs, underscores the uncertainty in this not so long ago burgeoning sector.

It was noted that the number of PMSCs had dropped from 150 in 2011 to 50 today, and the market could probably actually support around 30–40 at most going forward.

One of the issues for PMSCs is that while the somewhat unique circumstances off the failed state of Somalia allowed them to operate in the way they do the same does not apply to other piracy hotspots.

The biggest area of concern today is West Africa, but no one is recommending the use of PMSCs in that area as you will quickly fall foul of the coastal states. While no one was exactly singing the praises of Nigerian military approved security teams if calling in the West African state, it was also seen as the only viable option.

PMSCs also face major difficulties in operating their other potential business area which is Southeast Asia. While the conference was a caught alight by the hijacking of the Hai Soon 12, and its successful interception by the Indonesian Navy, territorial waters in that region largely prelude armed security.

The overall conclusion - don't discount piracy in risk assessments - where it actually is a bit more complex.