The past year has been referred to as ‘unprecedented’ for many reasons, and the rise in piracy is no exception. 2020 saw a steady increase in incidents, eventually totalling 195 reports, in comparison to 162 in 2019. In fact, the Gulf of Guinea alone saw a record number of crew kidnapped, a stark reminder that piracy does not just exist in the fictional world of a Tom Hanks film, nor was it left behind in 2013.
While previously Somalia had been the global hotspot for pirates, the Gulf of Guinea, the Singapore Straits, Indonesia, and the wider Southeast Asian region are now the key danger-zones.
The Gulf of Guinea region has quickly become recognised as the world’s epicentre for maritime kidnappings, with 95% of all global maritime kidnappings occurring here. The risks faced by crew in this area is immense, and with a steady rise in piracy incidents taking place further away from the shoreline, the danger to crewmembers is higher than ever.
A similar theme runs throughout the incidents happening in the Singapore Straits. While most of the activity remains as petty crime, The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) has issued warnings about the potential for armed robbery and abductions. In many cases, pirates board a vessel to attempt robbery, but escape unapprehended, leaving them free to act again with an improved plan.
While our concern immediately turns to the crew caught up in these incidents, the effects of piracy do not stop with them.
Now more than ever the world understands the importance of the maritime trade and shipping industry in transporting essential goods, including medical supplies and hospital equipment. It is also understood that, due to the interconnected nature of this industry’s supply chains, if one vessel and its crew are taken out of service, the domino effect of consequences will be felt across the globe.
Since people often turn to piracy when economic opportunities are scarce, and the global pandemic remains ongoing, there appears to be no end in sight for piracy in 2021. As such, it is not only a routine threat in pirate hotspots, but a systemic risk to the entire maritime supply chain.
What can I do to mitigate the risk of piracy?
The International Chamber of Shipping has published Best Management Practices documents that provide threat mitigation guidance on counter-piracy/armed robbery at sea: these can be found here and here.
Going forwards, piracy will continue to be a significant threat. Those operating in the vicinity of the Gulf of Guinea, the Singapore Straits, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia must remain vigilant, utilising Ship Security Alert Systems (SSAS) and the assistance of regional authorities where necessary. For those using SSAS management technologies, it is also vital to regularly ensure that onboard SSAS units are working properly.
Pole Star’s SSAS Management solution, developed with CSOs, DPAs, and security personnel, focuses on ensuring safety above all else. The onboard SSAS hardware automatically displays alerts, tests, and position reports on the web-based SSAS Management service, providing all the necessary data to mitigate risk in the event of a security situation.
Companies and organisations within the maritime supply chain should also consider adopting technologies to monitor and analyse piracy risks before, and during, a vessel journey.
Pole Star’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) solution offers a complete investigation and monitoring platform, allowing users to track, monitor, and review the historical movements and ongoing progress of any ship. MDA provides complete situational awareness with Pole Star’s patented ‘persistent’ tracking technology, combining satellite and terrestrial AIS with Inmarsat positional data for continuous and real-time vessel tracking.
For ship owners, operators, and charterers, MDA offers the data and actionable intelligence needed to ensure business continuity and increase your competitive advantage. For governments, flag administrations, and maritime authorities associated with homeland security, MDA can facilitate the safeguarding of maritime domains and ensure the success of coastal surveillance operations.
The platform provides access to real-time reports of piracy events and piracy forecasts. Users can view all recorded piracy incidents in an area, including attacks, vessels being boarded, hijackings, suspicious activity, and pirate action groups (PAG). By selecting an incident icon, users can view details, such as the time, date, the vessel involved, position, type of attack, and current status.
The piracy sea state risk feature looks at the likelihood of a piracy attack in a certain area, based on wave height and weather. As visible in the image below, areas with a higher wave height pose less of a risk than those with calm waters, where ships are more easily accessible to pirates utilising smaller vessels. Forecasts can be made up to 102 hours ahead, allowing MDA users to plan and make use of more secure routes.
To keep users updated when a new incident has occured, fleet managers and crew members can use MDA’s real-time alerting system. Alerts are automatically sent via email or SMS to the contacts of choice, immediately notifying them once an incident has been reported and verified.
In light of the developing piracy risk throughout the Gulf of Guinea, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will be focussing on the region at a maritime security working group planned for the next session of the Maritime Safety Committee, scheduled to take place in May 2021. This will provide the opportunity for IMO Member States and international organisations to discuss further collaboration and possible action to address the piracy problems.
Find out more about the upcoming session, the IMO’s current initiatives, and read the associated circular letter here.