The pirates are spreading

There hasn’t been much about pirate attacks in the news the last couple of years, but piracy is still a big problem in many parts of the world. What has changed is that it is no longer easy to pinpoint one certain area where the pirates are active. 

Pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden. Photo: US Navy.
March 12 Hans Liwång defends his thesis regarding security at sea, “Risk-based ship security analysis- a decision support approach”, which is a result of a collaboration between Chalmers and the Swedish Defence University.

– Ship owners have as big reason as ever to prioritizing the security onboard. The difference is that the threat has become more nuanced and spread, he says.

The piracy situation has changed a lot in recent years. Four or five years ago the pirate attacks outside the coast of Somalia were many. Today they have practically stopped. Hans Liwång sees three reasons for this:

- First of all the situation in Somalia is getting better. It has become easier to stop the pirates ashore. Secondly the ships passing the Gulf of Aden have become more aware and better at protecting themselves. Thirdly the risk of getting caught has increased with the presence of NATO and EU, Liwång says.

But the problem of piracy is far from gone. It has rather moved and today piracy is a common threat along the coastline of western Africa. – It is not the same amount of piracy as in the Gulf of Aden, but it is generally harder to tackle since the attacks are driven by many different motives and may be connected to organized crime ashore. The attacks are often carried out when a ship is being loaded or unloaded. The pirates then simply steal cargo or other thing aboard the ship.

So how shall the ship owners protect their ships? It is not possible to have a tick list of measures that is applicable for all ships, says Liwång. Instead it is very important to be specific in the analysis, to consider the ship in question, to see its strong and weak points and to include all the crew in the security solutions.

– It is very important that the crew members understand their roll. You can’t just put the security solutions in a binder. All aboard must know how to act if something would happen. Many see the security as something of a secret, but if the crew doesn’t know the weak spots of the security you will become an easy target.

Another important thing is that the ship must be perceived as protected- if it looks protected it is more likely that pirates choose not to attack the ship. One example is to have a proper look-out that is visible. The communication is also important, since it is common that the pirates eavesdrop at the radio communication.

- In port it is common to speak to other ships or your homeport. Then it is important to consider how to express yourself. This must permeate all operations, Liwång says.
The use of security guards aboard has long been discussed, but Liwång doesn’t think that is a solid solution in the long run.

- Outside the coast of Somalia there might have been reasons for it, but today the problem occurs a little now and then and everywhere. It is not viable to have guards aboard all the time. It is more important for the ship owners to get adequate information and in areas where it is needed they may ask for extra help from security staff.

A tradition of safety has been developed ever since the Titanic sank. That event can be seen as a start of a work for maritime safety that has been going on for more than a hundred years. Coordinating maritime security became an issue after the terror attacks in 2001. This is more about protection against criminals, pirates and terrorists rather than preventing accidents.

- This field isn’t as developed as maritime safety, but the ambition is to work parallel with both the fields. The shipping industry has mostly been spared from terror attacks, but we have seen a few attacks in parts of Asia and there are definitely plans from terror organizations to attack ships. We have to learn how to relate to it, but it is a great challenge.  

By: Katarina Anicic