The Menace of Maritime Piracy and Somali Pirates – Is There a Solution?

Maritime piracy must have been in existence ever since the first ship set its sails on the high seas. Talk about sea pirates to your friends or relatives and the first thing that would come to their minds are the images of Capt. Jack sparrow and Barbossa from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.


For landlubbers it’s hard to imagine that today a sea pirate looks no different from any of us. The only difference is that he is better trained, more fearless and perhaps a part of an organized crime or terrorist network. That is what our seafarers have to deal with in today’s world at sea and live in constant fear of getting jacked or looted or even killed by the sea pirates when sailing on highly dangerous waters infested with such criminals.

In older days, merchant ships were well armed and prepared with gallant sailors who carried guns and swords to protect themselves and their precious cargo. In comparison to older ships, today’s maritime fleet is completely unarmed and banks on non-lethal anti-piracy weapons and armed guards to deter the sea pirates or rely on naval vessels or coast guard. Training ashore and on board deals strictly with methods to protect us from piracy but not to fight pirates. No seafarer in his right mind would want to fight pirates armed or otherwise.

Since specialized shore based training is already provided to seaman today for tackling maritime piracy issues, I would focus here more on the growing trends of piracy at sea worldwide and how it is affecting the seamen.

Earlier before socio economic and political issues redefined the whole meaning of maritime piracy, Piracy from Malacca strait to the West Coast of Africa and even India was confined more with looting of ship’s property and crew’s personal items. With changing political dynamics from year 2005 onwards, Somalia grabbed the world center stage in ship hijackings and the entire Arabian sea and the Gulf of Aden became virtually a “No Man’s Land” for seafarers. The plight of captured seamen, their captivity for several months has only increased the presence of Naval Vessels in the area, but still there seems to be no lasting solution to this problem.

Hijacking of unarmed ships and kidnapping of seafarers near Nigeria and Somalia have become the most lucrative business for political rebels, organized criminals and agencies involved in the negotiation of ransom payments. Also, South China Sea/Singapore strait have been reporting considerable number of hijackings of small ships in the past few years.

Is there a Solution to Curb Maritime Piracy? 

If we check the history of piracy around USA, rarely one will read about cases of ship hijacking. The US coast guard is extremely alert and professional and the coast is well guarded. Can other countries with piracy activities along their coasts boast such firewall against pirates?

No doubt the coast guard of these countries are alert and their navies are excellent, but the lack of enforcing legislation on lines of USCG 96 hours (NOA) has made coastlines of countries such as India prone to alien vessels.

Many of these countries (e.g. India) do not have Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and ships report to port authorities only when within VHF range. Comparatively, if the US coast guard does not receive the mandatory 96 hrs.’ notice of arrival a ship cannot dock to any of its port and this system ensures each and every approaching vessel is tracked and monitored. A shipmaster before arriving US port must declare all particulars of his crew, cargo, past history of ports called by the ship etc. This is a great method to keep illegal activities away from the country.

Ship owners have started installing armed guards, created citadels and barbed wires on board for protection from piracy attacks, but these measures are focused mainly for ships transiting Gulf of Aden or pirated sensitive areas in the Arabian Sea and Indian ocean. The recent shooting case of Indian fisherman off Kerala coast by Italian armed guards has given good excuse to some ship-owners to remove armed guards quoting this incident and leaving their seafarers totally at the mercy of patrolling Naval vessels.

Several measures taken by NATO’s Operation ocean shield , the EU’s NAVFOR operation Atlanta and the Combined Task force151 which have been helpful to deter the pirates from attacking ships off Somalia up to a certain extent, but not completely. The political situation in Somalia is too complex for any foreign government to interfere and to provide a lasting solution. Considering the easy money that the ransom brings to the pirates, the problem of somali pirates will not end very soon.

With piracy spreading its influence to many terrorist groups who eye easy money with the kidnapping and seajacking of ships, seafarers are one left at the receiving end and more vulnerable to such piracy attacks.

What Seafarers Should Do To Tackle Maritime Piracy?

Seafarers should demand armed guards in all hostile waters where even a minutest risk exists for militants to settle scores with theirs or any foreign Govt. or to wage war on a foreign nation. For those who do not track IMB piracy reports, the following sea areas are prominent piracy prone areas as declared by IMB PRC and seafarers should be vigilant when passing through them.

1. Bangladesh

2. India

3. Indonesia

4. Singapore strait

5. Malacca strait

6. South china sea

7. Lagos

8. Cotonou(Benin)

9. Lome (Togo)

10. Abidjan(Ivory coast)

11. Gulf of Aden/Red sea

12. Somalia

Seafarers should also read the Best Management Practices - For Protection against Somalia Based Piracy(Version 4 – August 2011)

Considering there are such advanced technologies available that can be used to keep pirate ships under surveillance, tracked or even destroyed, it is hard to believe why are they still not being used for such purpose. A naive seafarer will never understand the political moves of affected business houses who perhaps never want this piracy to end. No one knows what is the real reason behind these activities and what are the probable solutions. Until now the shipping industry is just defending itself from maritime piracy. We wonder when will the responsible people find real solutions to end this and for long seafarers will have to risk their lives at sea?

Reference Credits: Marine Insight

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