After all the hoopla about resolving the piracy problems - the ultimatums by the seafarers’ unions, serious concern shown by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) besides Intertanko, BIMCO, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and other maritime organizations being in hot in pursuit of the Somali pirates - the issue remains largely unsolved and the sea brigands continue to rule the waters. This unfortunate situation seems to have triggered a kind of a metamorphosis among some who command ships in pirate infested waters.
A year back when the issue of piracy took center stage at one of the seminars of the Company of Master Mariners of India (CMMI) captains and nautical officers who attended the program felt it was best to wait and watch the situation, as it appeared that some lasting solution was finally underway. It seemed at that time that the world organizations had taken the beast by the horns and some decisive action would be forthcoming. At the same time experts talked about imminent solutions being put forth that would make ships invincible to pirate attacks.
But during the last week CMMI again focused on the piracy issues at their quarterly seminar. This time however Garry Stevens, Associate Director of London Steamship who addressed the participants about the measures that needed to be taken for transiting safely through the
Gulf of Aden and Somalian coastal waters got some astonishing responses when he sought the views of the participants.
“Pirates are after the cargo and the ransom but not the crew,” Garry had informed. According to him it was the pirates’ intention to do everything possible to secure the ransom at the earliest by using the media to their advantage and they also try and project the difficulty imposed on the crew and their families during the detention of the vessel.
“P & I Club is concerned about piracy,” he said. “Ultimately it is involved in ransom payment.” He dwelt at length on the various safety practices incorporated in the Best Management Practices (BMP) and which could ensure safety of the ship’s crew. He highlighted the use of razor wires, maintaining speed above 15 knots, sailing only in day light hours, use of ‘the Citadel’ and also moving in a convoy escorted by a naval vessel.
“Unfortunately countries did not want to get involved in legal issues and in prosecuting pirates as it was serving as a deterrent,” he said. “There is no death sentence and only a prison sentence. Besides, countries did not want to get after the pirates as they did not have room in their prisons and may have to offer them citizenship after they complete their sentence.”
At the end of his presentation he posed this question to the participants: “How many present here feel that use of armed guards is a solution to overcome piracy attacks?” More than half the number of nearly 300 master mariners present affirmed that it was the only solution including those captains who have had a close call with the pirates while navigating through Somalian waters. It was worth taking the risk they felt, knowing well that if their vessel was to be captured after a gun battle, with the pirates suffering casualties it could turn out to be dangerous for the ship’s crew.
I would like to point out, there has never been a ship taken when armed guards were protecting the vessel.