Violent Crime Against Seafarers
Responding to recent articles and reports on current levels of maritime piracy, intentionally MPHRP highlighted the worrying trend that they appear to avoid the word "piracy" in favour of "new forms of criminality", specifically "attacks" and "hijacking". The technical differences denoted by these terms aside, a basic truth is veiled: that violent crime is committed against seafarers.
Of Somali-based piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean - the one region where the term "piracy" is accurately applied - Hon. Abdalla Jama Saleh, the Minister for Maritime Transport, Ports and Counter Piracy for Puntland, states that the pirates are "not defeated but dormant." Jama Saleh is charged with leading Somalia's counter piracy efforts by working with the international community to fight piracy inland and along the coast of Puntland. He spoke to Defence IQ about the decline of piracy off the Somali coast and how that has now given rise to new maritime challenges in the Gulf of Aden. In tandem with his remarks, it must be noted that the international community's naval operations in the Indian Ocean, "Atalanta" and "Ocean Shield" have been extended until the end of 2016 amid warnings that, while Somali-based piracy in the Indian Ocean is held in check by multinational naval operations, pirates retain their capability to resume attacks, hijackings and hostage taking. The United Nations' Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia has also been given an extended mandate by its members. Meanwhile, 30 seafarers are still being held captive by pirates on Somali soil.
In its recently released 2014 piracy report, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) announced that "ship hijackings" in South East Asia spiked in 2014. While there have been fewer overall reports of piracy attacks (245, according to the IMB), the number of hijackings in 2014 totalled 21 compared to 12 in 2013. "The global increase in hijackings is due to a rise in attacks against coastal tankers in South East Asia," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB and Member of the MPHRP Board. "Gangs of armed thieves have attacked small tankers in the region for their cargoes, many looking specifically for marine diesel and gas oil to steal and then sell." The IMB highlighted the death of a crew member shot in an attack on a bitumen tanker in December as a possibility the incidents were becoming more violent.
The UK Chamber of Shipping has warned that progress made in the Indian Ocean should not mask significant security threats to shipping and seafarers in other regions, both off West Africa and in South East Asia – where a violent "petro-piracy" is thriving. UK Chamber CEO, Guy Platten, said that in these regions violent acts of maritime crime take place within the waters of functioning states. "This new form of maritime criminality, which often has links to shore-based oil theft, is taking place within the jurisdictions of functioning nation-states, but ones that pay little attention to maritime security and governance," Platten said. "Put simply, these regions have become a breeding ground for future pirates."
The MTISC (Gulf of Guinea) guidance adds that seafarers themselves are key to combating piracy in the region: "Experience has shown in other parts of the world that maritime security cannot be improved by the actions of law enforcement agencies and militaries alone; it requires the full support of seafarers operating in the region. This is more important in the seas off West Africa where navies, coastguards and law enforcement agencies have limited resources." It follows that seafarers need to be made aware and be adequately equipped to counter piracy.
Similarly, the Asian Ship Owners Forum has "expressed its grave concern over the growing threat of piracy in the waters of West Africa", adding that "experience has ... shown us that prompt and decisive action must be taken to nip the threat of piracy and armed robbery in the bud, before a handful of incidents can grow into a regional or even global problem that threatens the lives and well-being of thousands of seafarers".
Roy Paul, Programme Director of MPHRP, said, "At the end of last year our team in South East Asia were involved in responding to the death of Mr. Tran Duc Dat, 3rd Engineer of the Vietnam flagged M/T VP Asphalt 2. The seafarers were tied up and the pirates searched a number of crew cabins and stole personal effects. The pirates then left the vessel and made their escape. The third engineer was found in his cabin having been shot in the forehead. Welfare responders from MPHRP assisted the family through the repatriation and burial of their loved one. He leaves a wife and two young daughters and MPHRP also assisted other crew members after these violent events". MPHRP is assisting nearly 500 seafarers and their families who have been affected by piracy and armed robbery.
The industry is already investing heavily in shore side solutions to piracy. In Somalia several projects focus on creating jobs for Somali's and intend to create and restore law and order infrastructure to prosecute criminality. It is sad then, to report that in comparison little is being done to address the hardship of seafarers and families who have lost their lives, their health, their freedom and livelihood to piracy while they were simply doing the job that they were legally employed to do.
It is our seafarers who bear the brunt of these criminal acts, irrespective of what these crimes are called or how statistics are counted. Ultimately, violent crime at sea will affect the recruitment and retention of career seafarers.