Ship owners are calling on governments to curb the escalating threat from the increasingly audacious attacks by Somali pirates. The attacks are being blamed for “strangling key maritime supply routes and for costing the global economy up to $12 billion a year,” according to an article on the Lloyd’s web site.
“Pirates captured 1181 people in 2010 – more than in any year since the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has kept records. During last year, 53 ships were hijacked—another record.
“Somali pirates were responsible for nearly all of these ship seizures. And although piracy has been a problem ever since ships have sailed, Somali gangs have turned it into a particularly lucrative pastime.”
Neil Smith, Head of Underwriting at the Lloyd’s Market Association, explained: “They have changed the game. Before, pirates would board smaller ships, ransack them for cash or belongings and get off as quickly as they could. Now the Somali pirates recognize that by taking hostages they can bargain with the owners for the return of the vessel and its cargo.”
Lloyd’s described the situation as an “escalating problem,” noting that according to the IMB’s latest figures for 2011, “Somali pirates have hijacked 13 ships, taken 243 hostages and killed seven people.” They currently hold 33 vessels and 711 hostages.
Not only has there been a steep rise in attacks by Somali pirates in the past five years, but the ransoms paid to them have also skyrocketed. “In 2005 they averaged $150,000; in 2010 that figure had jumped to $5.4 million,” according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).
The growing problem has alarmed vessel owners and operators. They launched a new campaign in March – called “SOS: Save Our Seafarers” – to try to force governments to crack down on piracy.
Graham Westgarth, Chairman of INTERTANKO, the international association of independent tanker owners described the piracy situation as “out of control. The pirates’ extended reach through the use of hijacked merchant ships (so-called mother ships) means that for tankers coming from the Gulf, there is no longer an optional route to avoid the risk of hijacking. Governments need to protect the world’s shipping lanes by showing political will, not political indifference.”
Lloyd’s described the seizure of the tanker Irene SL on February 9 as a possible “game changer,” in that it marked a new escalation of the piracy problem and “has sent shockwaves across the world. The hijacking represents a step change, firstly for the value of its cargo and secondly for the location of the attack.
“The Irene was carrying 2 million barrels of Kuwaiti oil bound for the US – equivalent to a fifth of the country’s daily oil imports -and was attacked 900 miles off the coast of Somalia, astonishing the shipping industry.”
For the ship owners it is further “evidence of growing lawlessness on the oceans, but the LMA’s Smith suggests the pirates’ shift in tactics is a result of the success international naval forces have had in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
EU Navfor, the European Union’s anti-piracy mission, along with ships from other navies, managed to halve the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden last year. “The naval units in the seas off the Horn of Africa should be applauded for preventing a huge number of piracy attacks in the region,” according to the IMB in its 2010 Annual Report on Piracy.
Although Somali-based pirates have been marauding off the Horn of Africa for several years, a solution to the problem remain elusive. Smith stated: “There is not an insurance solution or even a military solution that is possible. A political solution on the land will be the only way to tackle the problem.”
The IMB agrees. It pointed out that it is “vital that governments and the United Nations devote resources to developing workable administrative infrastructures to prevent criminals from exploiting the vacuum left from years of failed local government. All measures taken at sea to limit the activities of the pirates are undermined because of a lack of responsible authority back in Somalia from where the pirates begin their voyages and return with hijacked vessels.”
Source: Lloyd’s of London
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