The Battle Against Piracy & Armed Robbery In Shipping

There are numerous incidents of Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships reported each year. Ships being attacked, boarded, hijacked, fired upon, crew members being kidnapped & held hostage for ransom, are just some examples of the shipping industry’s ugly hidden truth. With the majority of the world’s cargo being carried by sea, Piracy not only places seafarers at risk, but such activity greatly impedes the international delivery of shipments, increasing shipping costs, raising insurance rates & much more!

The violence in what’s considered the world’s “piracy hotspots” is a lot closer than you might think. Attacks by ship-type are very strategic & well-calculated by organized crime groups & armed gangs. Incidents involving Bulk Carriers & Product Tankers are amongst the highest reported due to their valuable cargo which supplies a large percentage of oil to Europe & the U.S. Vessels carrying General Cargo sit in the mid-range of incidents reported. With Chemical Tankers & Container ships in the lower range of reported incidents.

Fortunately, there’s been significant improvement in the fight against maritime crime at the ports & anchorages around the globe. The importance & effectiveness of regional cooperation & information-sharing mechanisms amongst governments, specialized agencies & international maritime organizations, has reduced the rate of attacks world-wide. But it’s still very much a work in progress.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) determines that Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

(a)          any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft & directed:

(i)            on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft

(ii)           against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State

(b)          any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft,

(c)           any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN specialized agency, is responsible for maritime safety & security as well as the protection of the marine environment. Acts of Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships are a huge concern to the IMO & the shipping industry in general. The IMO is focused on developing regional cooperation & implementing anti-piracy measures to improve security on ships, at port facilities & anchorages. The IMO issues monthly & annual incident reports on Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships, using data submitted by member governments & appropriate international maritime organizations.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), the highest technical body of the IMO, is tasked with the improvement of maritime safety & security. The MSC advocates self-protection as the most appropriate deterrent to acts or attempted acts of Piracy & Armed Robbery & approved recommendations on the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel on board ships in high risk areas.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (RECAAP) is the first regional government-to-government agreement to promote & enhance cooperation against Piracy & Armed Robbery. To date, 20 states in Asia have become contracting parties to RECAAP. The RECAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) was established under the Agreement as an initiative for facilitating the distribution of piracy-related information.

The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) has monitored attacks on the world’s seas since 1992 & offers a free 24-hour service for ship-masters to report any piracy, armed robbery or stowaway incidents. IMB follows the Definition of Piracy as outlined by UNCLOS & Armed Robbery as laid down by the IMO. Prior to 1992, ship-masters & ship-operators had nowhere to turn to when their ships were attacked, robbed or hijacked either in port or out at sea. Local law enforcement either turned a deaf ear, or chose to ignore that there was a serious problem in their waters.

In June 2017, 13 countries signed an Amendment to a key IMO instrument, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, helping to repress Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean & the Gulf of Aden. The Code of Conduct, which is part of the IMO’s on-going maritime security work, includes measures for suppressing a range of illicit activities such as piracy, arms trafficking, trafficking in narcotics, illegal trade in wildlife, illegal oil bunkering, crude oil theft, human trafficking, human smuggling & illegal dumping of toxic waste.

The European Union project, the Gulf of Guinea Inter-regional Network (GOGIN), an outcome of the Code of Conduct, has 19 coastal countries working together in a joint effort to fight Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships. The project will cover a massive area of coastline rife with criminal activity. The EU program started in June 2017 to support participating countries in developing, planning & coordinating communication & IT infrastructure at an inter-regional level.

Shipping companies are also working to improve safety & security measures on board their vessels at sea, such as hiring Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel, posting lookouts, blocking easy entry points to ships & installing secure panic rooms equipped with communications equipment.

Piracy & Armed Robbery has been a real threat to the modern day shipping industry since the late 20th century & affects a number of countries as well as the wider international community. It’s an issue of global concern. Governments, specialized agencies & international maritime organizations are working hard to provide valuable support. Also, the presence of international navies patrolling high risk areas is essential in providing an added layer of deterrence & helping to secure important trade routes of the world. But more still needs to be done to crack down on the well-organized crime groups & armed gangs. It’s a long road ahead.

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Cargo Spectrum is a proud member of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) & the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), a.k.a. the “Architects of Transport”, where shipping safety & security is top priority.