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Piracy: A Growing Global Menace

By John Daly | Thu, 07 July 2011 13:32 | 12

Over the last few years, thanks largely to Hollywood’s “pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, maritime buccaneers have acquired a highly romantic image.

The reality of modern piracy is far removed from the images peddled by Tinseltown. In the most recent nautical attack, Somali pirates on 6 July attacked the 900-foot Brillante Virtuoso, which was carrying over 141,000 tons of fuel oil from Ukraine to Qingdao, China, 20 miles off the Yemeni port of Aden. The vessel’s 26 crew members abandoned ship after the attackers fired an RPG round into their sleeping quarters.

According to ship manager Central Mare Inc., the vessel and its cargo were recovered, despite the fact that the rocket-propelled grenade started a fire on board.

While piracy is a worldwide annoyance, its epicenter is now the failed nation state of Somalia, where brazen hijacking of vessels in the Indian Ocean as far away as the Seychelles have in the past decade netted the maritime miscreants billions of dollars.
Though little noticed, tankers have been targets of opportunity for both pirates and terrorists for some time.

While media attention has focused on Somalia, the problem is global. On 16 January 1999 the 131,654 DWT-ton French-flag tanker Chaumont was attacked by pirates while transiting the Malacca Straits’ Phillip Channel in Indonesian waters near Singapore. The attackers tied up the crew and the fully loaded tanker sailed at full speed through one of the world's busiest shipping lanes for 70 minutes without anyone at the helm.

In waters nearby the site of today’s attack, in October 2002 the 299,364 DWT-ton French tanker Limburg was rammed by an explosives-laden boat off the port of Ash Shihr at Mukallah, 353 miles east of Aden. A crewman was killed and the double-hulled tanker was breached. The impact on the Yemeni economy was immediate, as maritime insurers tripled their rates. Al-Qaida later claimed the attack.

On 15 November 2008 the Somali pirates captured their biggest prize yet, the VLCC (very large crude carrier) 162,252- ton Sirius Star, 500 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, the farthest out to sea Somali pirates had struck up to then. With a capacity of two million barrels, the Sirius Star carried the equivalent of more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily production, a cargo worth more than worth $100 million at the time. On 9 January 2009 the vessel was freed in exchange for a discreet $3 million ransom.

The International Maritime Organization, the U.N.'s 162 nation maritime counterpart, is notorious for the plodding nature of its legislative process. Under current IMO regulations, merchantmen are forbidden to carry firearms for self-protection, charmingly archaic legislation that signally fails to address the realities of the post 9-11 world. The IMO estimates that maritime traffic now accounts for 80 percent of the world's commerce.
Cutthroat competition to reduce profits, flags of convenience, miserable wages - all are problems bedeviling the maritime community while creating a nightmare for security specialists.

It is not as if seafaring nations have not been trying to cope. On 22 August 2008 the multinational naval coalition Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), set up after the 11 September attacks to patrol the Arabian Sea and the coast of Africa to combat terrorism, established an eight-mile-wide, 550 mile-long nautical corridor - the Maritime Safety Protection Area (MSPA) - in the Gulf of Aden in which patrols would be conducted to provide safe passage to merchantmen. CTF 150 aircraft also monitored the channel.
Needless to say, today the CTF 150 was reactive, not proactive.

The issue of how to cope with East Africa’s pirates has been the topic of heated debate for several years, from bleeding heart liberals advocating attempting to rebuild Somalia’s shattered economy to the more muscular response of CTF 150 members, who advocate more of a “Dirty Harry” approach, i.e., kill them if at all possible and avoid the nasty legal issues of tussling with maritime law niceties, which dates back centuries and is the most convoluted legal corpus on the planet.

Given the realities of modern commercial shipping, a sensible compromise might be for the IMO to revisit its prohibition on small arms onboard merchantmen. While sailors, alcohol and firearms have traditionally proven a volatile mix, one of the reasons for the current IMO restrictions, creative solutions might be found, something on the order of nuclear submarines’ dual launch controls, whereby two responsible officers have to unlock the missilery in tandem. 

What is clear at this point is that water hoses don’t work and that the CTF can’t be everywhere. As an old Afghan proverb puts it, a people who do know something about firearms, “Five of them would run from the bang of one empty gun.” It’s worth considering how many would retreat form a half-dozen weapons fully locked and loaded.

By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com

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  • Anonymous on July 07 2011 said:
    Piracy? You mean like Greece just did to the aid flotilla on behalf of Israel?
  • Anonymous on July 07 2011 said:
    Yes, piracy seems to be quite a problem, but not as much as the stupidity of the governments that cannot protect their nationals. I am curious though. Curious as to how an intelligent man or woman can sit in a meeting with ignoramuses like Obama, Cameron, Hague, Ms Clinton, and the like, and listen to them discussing this issue.
  • Anonymous on July 07 2011 said:
    what I'm wondering is how the US navy witth all its carrier fleets etc can't prevent Somali pirates from threatening half the Indian Ocean shipping routes. I mean what are thosev fleets for?
  • Anonymous on July 07 2011 said:
    I believe merchant ship officers and at least the more trustworthy of a merchant ship's non-officer crew, should be allowed to bear arms. To require ship crews to go unarmed into waters infested with pirates, is madness. Liquified natural gas (LNG) tankers most of all, and large petroleum tankers too, should definitely have adequate numbers of personnel on board who have weapons and are skilled in their use.
  • Anonymous on July 07 2011 said:
    Phillip, the U.S. Navy fleet is for the national defense and interests of the United States. Not to protect all the world's shipping. I'm not sure if you realize how vast the Indian Ocean is but it is impossible to patrol all of it. My two cents, a few years back Xe (formerly blackwater) bought a ship and was toying with the idea of providing safe conduct convoys for shipping through the gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea etc.. This could be a very good solution. Have mercenary companies provide this service.
  • Anonymous on July 08 2011 said:
    Shawn, you mean have mercenary firms (or private enterprise) provide this service instead of comparatively small US navy ships with a few helicopter gunships aboard. That doesn't make any sense to me, since at any given time most of the ships of the US and other navies are training or just hanging around some port so that their crews can go on 'liberty'. Oh no, the problem is stupidity and a lack of the ability to do any constructive thinking.And please dont tell me that I am wrong. I spent a year working for the navy at Great Lakes (Illinois), designing terminal installations for radar and sonar. That was hundreds of years ago, and so...
  • Anonymous on July 08 2011 said:
    OK, Shawn1. Doesn't patrolling protecting the Indian Ocean/ Persian Gulf waterway come under protecting US interests in term of petroleum from the Gulf to the US, for example?2. Yes the Indian Ocean is vast, but I feel thart if Somali pirates can manage to find and hijack ships on shipping routes, then a navy, or navies should be able to protect the same. I mean navies have aircraft and drones etc. for rec.
  • Anonymous on July 08 2011 said:
    Let's cut to the chase. A shipping lane can be established in the relevant waterways, and kept under constant electronic scrutiny. Easy peasy. And what I cant understand is who among our political masters are so dumb as not to come to the same conclusion.
  • Anonymous on July 09 2011 said:
    You newbs are all way off the mark. The US Nav could brush these "pirates" (more like armed retards) aside as an afterthought with UAvs on autopilot, they wouldn't even have to be awake. Instead the pretend pirates are carefully nurtured and tended, in hopes that one day they can become the next bogeyman-du-juer; the next al Ciada/red menace/terrorists to keep the stupid enthralled.
  • Anonymous on July 09 2011 said:
    You score an A on your contribution Mr Kidd, but because of your language I will reduce that to A-. The word stupid is too important in my vocabulary for me to approve of it being bandied about in the present context.By the way, the real supidoes can be found among our political masters. They don't have a clue, do they?
  • Anonymous on July 11 2011 said:
    Hmmm? Did we read in the 2nd paragraph that a ship of oil bound for China was attacked? It would be interesting to know where the tankers that have been attacked were headed. Is there a pattern? The western powers don't want China to get oil, for obvious reasons. I mean, that's why we are at war all over the place.
  • Anonymous on July 11 2011 said:
    Isabel, you could be right about oil and China, however all is fair in love and war - particularly love, by which I mean the love of money. I can add that pirates also need money, though not as badly as I do.What is still not understood to the extent that it should be understood is that China is a commercial rival of the US, and probably the most dangerous commercial rival in the history of the Big PX. Aside from that - which may or may not be relevant for the present discussion - it needs to be appreciated that protecting ships from prirates is child's play, even in a world where many governments are run by fools who find everything difficult.

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