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Talks on armed security teams to deter pirates

Talks on armed security teams to deter pirates

Dubai: Negotiations are underway on placing private armed security teams aboard ships passing through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden (known in Arabic as Bab al Mandab), as leading regional supertanker and container ship operators reveal details of hijack attempts on their vessels.

Mohammad Souri, Chairman and Managing Director of the National Iranian Tanker Company, speaking during the opening session of the Seatrade Middle East Maritime conference taking place in Dubai, has revealed that five of his company's ships have been chased and threatened but had escaped by outrunning the Somali pirates in their fast attack boats.

At the same conference, Saleh Al Shamekh, President Oil and Gas of the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (NSCSA), said some of his company's vessels had also come under attack off the Somali coast but had escaped, in one case with the protection of an Indian Navy warship.  When all ships currently on order are delivered, NSCSA will have a combine fleet of 52 ships.
Al Shamekh said his company, like others, had ordered increased speeds for vessels and to stay further away from the Somali coast. In some cases, however, they are diverting vessels away from Bab al Mandab, which leads to the Suez Canal and the shortest route to Europe, in favour of the longer Cape of Good Hope route.

Jorn Hinge, Chief Operating Officer of United Arab Shipping Company (UASC), also revealed two of their container ships had been attacked by the pirates without success. He spoke of the "total lawlessness" of Somali where the chance of pirates being caught was small while the rewards in terms of ransom were huge. UASC is the largest ocean carrier of dry cargo to the Middle East and jointly owned by Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

The three were speaking in advance of a special evening session tonight (Monday 15 December 2008) of the Seatrade Money and Ships conference on the increase in piracy in Bab al Mandab Gulf and off the Horn of Africa.

Around 260 vessels a day pass through Bab al Mandab and more than100 hijacking attempts have been made this year. A total of 16 vessels have been captured for ransom by the pirates, around 18 seafarers have died in the attacks and a further 300 remain in hostage in Somali. The pirates stunned the world recently by hijacking Sirius Star, a Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with 90 million gallons of oil.

"So far five of our ships have been chased and threatened but have managed to escape," said Souri, whose company aims to become the world's fourth-largest supertanker operator. "We have instructed our captains to raise their speeds and not to stop or listen to any threat because if they are captured, they could be in even more danger," he added. One of his company's giant oil tankers had been hit by rocket propelled grenades fired by the pirates.

Souri believed the recently announced European Union naval force of six warships and three aircraft to protect merchant vessels by forming convoys in Bab al Mandab could help. But he added that his company was in talks on the possibility of putting armed security teams on board their own vessels as they traverse the dangerous waters of the strait.

Private security companies from the UK are offering teams armed with guns, flares and tear gas to defend vessels against attack, he added. Other protection measures include ringing ships with barbed wire to prevent pirates boarding. "The armed teams of four of five would also train some of the crew in anti-piracy measures," he said.

However, most countries do not allow the arming of merchant vessels which sail under their flags and insurance companies are opposed. "I think that if the European Union forces can protect the ships, this story will be settled but otherwise we shall have to have armed forces on board our ships and we are negotiating at the moment," Souri said.

"The level of hijackings has reached unprecedented levels and presents an enormous challenge to both the global and regional maritime industry," said Christopher Hayman, Chairman of Seatrade, organisers of Seatrade Middle East Maritime taking placing at Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Seatrade Middle East Maritime, which runs until Tuesday 16 December, 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.

Seatrade Middle East Maritime 2008 is the largest maritime event of its kind in the region with a record number of exhibitors and stands. National pavilions include China, France, Germany, Holland, India, Singapore and the United Kingdom. A total of 313 companies from 33 countries are exhibiting. More than 500 delegates are also attending associated conferences.

Principal sponsors 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.

The event is supported by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, DP World, Dubai Shipping Agents Association, Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the International Association of Ports and Harbours, the Nautical Institute, the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, ImarEST, the UAE Ship Owners Association and the Supply Chain & Logistics Group.  [15/12/08]