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Middle East owners gather in Dubai to deal with 'intolerable' levels of piracy

Middle East owners gather in Dubai to deal with 'intolerable' levels of piracy

Dubai: With piracy off the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden reaching "intolerable" levels, senior executives of the Middle East maritime sector are to debate the challenges for ship operators at a special industry seminar this month.

"There have been nearly 100 hijackings, attempted or successful, and around 300 seamen are being held by pirates, making the waters off Somalia the most dangerous in the world," said Christopher Hayman (pictured), Chairman of Seatrade, organisers of Seatrade Middle East Maritime 2008 - the region's leading maritime event (14-16 December 2008).

"The level of hijackings has clearly reached an intolerable level and we have introduced the special seminar on the second day of this year's event to examine the enormous challenge which piracy now represents for ship operators in the region. In particular, we will be addressing the risk of injury to crew, the damage or loss of vessels or cargo as well as loss of earnings," Hayman added.

Seatrade Middle East Maritime at Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre is under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

Among the estimated 300 seamen currently being held by Somali pirates are the 25 crew of the Saudi Arabian-owned supertanker Sirius Star, the largest ship taken by pirates. The Vela Marine very large crude carrier with $100 million of oil on board is at anchor off the pirate port of Eyl.

Some $30 million is estimated to have been paid in ransom this year alone and the pirates are said to be receiving an average of $2 million for each seized vessel.

Navies of the European Union, United States, South Africa, India, Malaysia and Russia are among an international coalition of nations with warships in the region escorting merchant vessels and responding to distress calls. " But this massive deployment of foreign navies to the vital shipping lane has so far failed to even slow the rate of attacks, with new ships taken almost daily," Hayman said.

"Security companies have also been brought in a so far ineffective attempt to protect ships. Meanwhile, US, British and French security companies have announced plans to make private gunboats, one with an attack helicopter, available for hire in the pirate-infested waters.

"The simple fact is, however, that even though there are patrols, warships cannot be everywhere," Hayman said. "There are also grave dangers in the increasing militarisation of the waters off the Horn of Africa.

"Most commentators agree that piracy is merely the symptom of a real crisis - the political collapse of Somalia. The solution may not be about sending navies to combat piracy but ending the long-standing civil war in the country which has given rise to this maritime lawlessness."

Piracy is also affecting traffic through the vital Suez Canal linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean with a number of major shipping companies announcing the re-routing of cargo around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

The Seatrade Money and Ships conference will also address the new world financial climate; whether tighter credit will inhibit growth; changed investor sentiment for shipping and what it means for ownership in the Middle East; shipyard capacity, deliveries and new building prices; regional trade flows and the outlook for container demand.

Other crucial topics will be energy and dry bulk transportation; fuel, emissions and green technology; port construction and development; and the challenges of recruitment, training and retention of crews.

The 6th Seatrade Middle East Cruise Conference will take place on Monday 15 December. The region's cruise tourism is expanding at a rapid rate and is providing large growth potential for the future. Among speakers will be Manfred Ursprunger, CEO of QE2 Enterprises of Nakheel, the company that has brought the former cruise liner to Dubai to be converted into a floating hotel moored at Dubai's Palm Jumeirah.

On Tuesday 16 December the SuperYacht Solutions Conference will be held. "The Arabian Gulf now has one of the biggest concentrations of super yacht ownership in the world," said Hayman. "As a region, it is a world leader in waterfront and marina development and expertise in yacht technology, design, and outfitting is growing rapidly."

The Seatrade Middle East Maritime exhibition and conference, held every two years in Dubai, has evolved into one of the world's fastest-growing maritime events and now ranks among the industry's top 10 largest.

The 2008 is the largest to date with a record number of exhibitors and stands. With national pavilions including China, France, Germany, Holland, India, Singapore and the United Kingdom, more than 250 companies will be participating. In 2006 the event notched up record attendance of 6,000 trade participants from 63 countries. In 2008, the organisers expect attendance to increase by at least 20%.

Principal sponsors of Seatrade Middle East Maritime 2008 include Det Norske Veritas, GEM, Dubai Maritime City Authority, NITC and Gulf Marine. Other sponsors are: ABS, BP Marine, ClassNK, Drydocks World, Emarat Maritime, Ince Al Jallaf & Co, Lloyd's Register, Topaz Energy & Marine, Rais Hassan Saadi Group, SAIFEE Trading, Royal Caribbean Cruises Line, Cloud Cruises and the Ministry of Tourism for the Sultanate of Oman.