The threat of piracy in the shipping industry

31 October 2020

After the recent events off the shores of the Isle of Wight hit the news, the ongoing threat of pirate attacks was brought to all of our attention once again.

This time it was a Liberian-flagged oil tanker which was forced to anchor as stowaway pirates seized control of the ship as it voyaged towards Southampton port. But thanks to a valiant and clinical operation from the Special Boat Service (SBS), both the ship and its crew onboard were safely recovered and six Somalian pirates are now in custody. Mission accomplished in less than nine minutes by the brilliant SBS, but unfortunately not all pirate attack attempts end with such positive outcomes.

Modern day piracy is posing a genuine threat to the shipping industry and all maritime transport. There are particular hotspots such as the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea and the South China Sea. Plus areas of increased risk of cut-off such as the Strait of Bab al-Mandab between Arabia and Africa or the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asian waters. In 2019 alone, there were 162 gun-armed pirate attack incidents on ships with boarding from the water being the most common pirate tactic.


So what is the shipping industry doing to tackle this problem?

Various organisations, such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), are collaborating with global governments and liner operators to establish best practice guidance and procedures for when such incidents happen, and how to prevent them.

For example, the guidance calls on vessels to communicate their intentions to transit the piracy high risk area to Naval Forces in the region and to employ vessel self-protection measures based on a vessel-specific risk assessment.

From the shipping companies perspective, they are starting to deploy numerous other tactics to prevent pirate attacks. These include; hiring guard ships to protect the liner vessel through the most risky waters. Hiring security guards on-board, operating the citadel affect: total lockdown to protect crew, and even fitting a Long Range Acoustic Device (a device which emits a loud noise to ward off attackers).

Some of these tactics do appear to be beginning to be having an effect in the fight against piracy. But the wider challenge remains in the high risk areas around Somalia. And whilst the current ongoing armed conflict, insecurity and lack of state governance in the country remains, so will the risk of pirate attacks.


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