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i-maritime Newsletter

Combating piracy: Shipping to become costlier - 2011-12-08

Attacks by pirates on cargo ships off the Somalia coast in 2011 accounted for 56 per cent of such attacks globally. In the first nine months of 2011, there were 199 attacks off the coasts of Somalia, targeting 24 vessels, in which 400 crew were taken hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Report Centre. The economic cost for global trade in 2010 due to piracy was estimated to be $7-12 billion, according to India, which supplies a large number of crew to ships globally, has over 150 training institutes capable of producing around 11,000 seafarers annually. The Indian Government has to ensure that Indian seafarers are not targeted by pirates, says Mr P. Mukundan, Director, International Maritime Bureau. This organisation acts as a focal point for the shipping industry in respect of trade fraud, and it runs the piracy reporting centre, one of the major providers of information on piracy attacks. Based out of London, Mr Mukundan was in Chennai recently. In an interaction with Business Line, he spoke of the economic impact of piracy attacks; role of India in curbing this growing menace and finding a peaceful solution in Somalia.

From every perspective, a piracy attack is an unprecedented criminal phenomenon. Crews and owners feel vulnerable and believe that once a vessel is hijacked, no one will come to their assistance. This has, however, changed recently with a more robust approach by naval vessels to intervene and arrest pirates who board the vessels. Fleet-owners are routing their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope rather than risk attacks in the waterways of the Gulf of Aden.

For the industry, it is important to ensure that the Gulf of Aden and Indian coast are free from piracy, even if it costs a considerable amount of money to divert ships.

Shipowners need to spend more on security, at a time when freight rates are very low and barely cover operating costs. Yes, eventually the additional cost that owners need to pay to keep the ships safe will be passed on to the end customers. Pirates are unsophisticated criminals trying to hold shipping groups to ransom. And, this should not be allowed.

There are around 20 naval vessels operating in the Gulf of Aden to keep pirates away from merchant ships. Most of the maritime countries such as India, US, Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan, have a presence in the region.

There are occasionally Indian crew members being held in Somalia. It must be examined if laws can be passed to enable India and other crew-providing countries such as the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine to be able to put pirates on trial in their respective countries for attacks on their countrymen.

For India, it is important to keep the seafront safe. It cannot be forgotten that the Mumbai attacks were perpetrated by terrorist who came by the sea route. It is very important that we do not have unauthorised, armed people, coming close to the Indian coast. Piracy is one way of people doing that, if unchecked.

The industry is delighted by the action taken by the Indian Navy in successfully dealing with pirates. It has opened up a relatively safe channel for ships to go past the Indian coast. For the global maritime industry, the energy supply route from the Gulf is passing through the Arabian Sea. This route is critical for the Europe-Asia container route. It is absolutely essential to keep this route safe.

A robust response is required to deter the pirates, and this was effectively seen in the last six months. But, we must also take the soft supportive action in south central Somalia for people living there. I do not think this is an issue for the industry. It is an issue for the government and the United Nations to provide the required aid. The trade routes into Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam — the two key ports of Kenya and Tanzania — are dramatically affected by piracy.

There are geo-political reasons why the governments should try to do something to stop piracy. I know how difficult it is in Somalia. It is torn by civil war and broken up into different parts. But piracy is focussed in south-central Somalia. This is where the aid and development efforts should be focussed.

One of the big gaps in the response against piracy is the prosecution of pirates. There are still situations where, when naval vessels catch a group of pirates, they do not get permission to take them to their own state for trials. The pirates are allowed to go back to Somalia. This is exactly the wrong message to send to young pirates. It is no wonder that, within weeks, they are back again looking for the next ship on which to launch a fresh attack.

Source: Hindu Business Line