Who never heard about pirates, imaginary or true stories fulfilling our youth, pirates with wooden legs and parrots on their shoulders, sailing the seven seas.
The pirates always have been known as very good and venturous sailors with a bloody heart.
We admire the bravery of these sailors and dream about their treasures left behind in some unknown Island waiting to be discovered in modern times, the actual history is a little bit different, we always tend to forget the other side of the coin, the pirates victims.
Now I want to have a more objective approach, definitions of what is Piracy or an act of Piracy - according an Wikipedia article there’s the usual - “Piracy is robbery committed at sea, on a river, or sometimes on shore, without permission from a nation”. From same page we can find the UN definition and the Sea Act - “ Maritime piracy, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, consists of any criminal acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft that is directed on the high seas against another ship, aircraft, or against persons or property on board a ship or aircraft. Piracy can also be committed against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state”
In the real world and since the man started to sail on any kind of “floating device”, attacks always had been committed on and from vessels, we have reports since the ancients times, Greek, Phoenician, Chinese, African, European etc, all these people had perpetrate Piracy acts.
With the time passing and during the 20th century, piracy attacks were news just when some western people or vessels belonging to western Companies were involved, and quickly forgotten, local attacks in areas like Malacca Strait, Indonesia waters, Vietnam, East and West Africa, Brazil and many more other locations allover the World were passed unnoticed for long time.
On recent times the piracy word start to appear in the media news front page more often than should I’m afraid, in some occasions associated with terrorism actions (political motives), other times, pure acts of robbery over vessels cargo, highjacking against crews and their belongings, ransoms asked to Ship Owners for releasing of crews and cargo, etc, etc, remembering the IRA attacks in the early eighties and the well known terrorist highjack of Italian cruise ship “Achille Lauro” off the Egypt coast by “Palestinian Liberation Front” terrorists, just before the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attack, the Americans had suffered another terrorist attack that took the lives of 17 seamen, this suicide bomb attack was perpetrated against the Destroyer USS Cole when she was berthed at Yemeni port of Aden.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 and the urgent need to give an answer to the increasing pirates/terrorists attacks against ships, IMO/UN came out with the ISPS Code.
The ISPS code (The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code) was created with the intension to be the answer to all this attacks and the best instrument to fight against the increasing rate on piracy attacks and threats over the world merchant fleet.
“ The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) was adopted by a Conference of Contracting Governments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, convened in London from 9 to 13 December 2002.
The Code aims, among other things, to establish an international framework for co-operation between Contracting Governments, Government agencies, local administrations and the shipping and port industries to detect security threats and take preventive measures against security incidents affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade and to establish relevant roles and responsibilities at the national and international level. These objectives are to be achieved by the designation of appropriate personnel on each ship, in each port facility and in each ship owning company to make assessments and to put into effect the security plans that will be approved for each ship and port facility.”
The implementation costs of this code was sustained by the shipping Companies in a big effort to comply with the resolutions, crew members were trained, courses held allover the world, security plans, manuals, certification, inspection and obviously at the end of the line a “little” more weight on the paper work for the deck officers and a new assigned responsibility as SSO (Ship Security Officer) for the Master or the officer on board untitled to, on the Company side a new figure appears, the CSO (Company Security Officer) a few more tasks to be done for all involved in the security plan etc, on the Port Facilities side the implementation took also a high cost, the need to certify the ports and all the measures to comply with the code were taken seriously in some contracting countries, but in others the seafarers found big problems and breaches in the code procedures, some times just to know who is the PFSO (Port Facility Security Office)is a problem not to speak about security levels and the discussions between ships Masters and Port Facilities Authorities (scarce information from the local agents), when to issue a DOS (Declaration of Security) is a guessing job, you never know, so the majority of SSO just fill in one DOS and that’s it, log in the Security Log Book for the sake of future inspection.
Associated with this came the electronic aids like the AIS and the SSAS, these two systems if in theory these should be a great help for the sailors, in practice the AIS starts to be miss used by deck officers not well trained, when using this system for navigation, and obvious if this system identifies the vessel and give important information about voyage and cargo, everybody, including the pirates can easily follow the vessel and attack when and where is more suitable and the SSAS systems on the market proved to be very complicated to operate and just a simple test or drill can become a nightmare of push buttons!!!
In a real situation even if you are able to send the alert through the SSAS some times when the answer come from shore you are already seized by the pirates and the vessel is under the power of their guns, any kind of physical help would arrive to late and any armed action to freed crew and vessel could put in jeopardize the lives of the crew
So I’m asking, is the ISPS Code really effective? If yes, why the threats, the terrorist attacks and the pirate attacks instead of decreasing it looks that have lately increased in great amount.
Just to finish, this post has gone to long already, why the tanker “Sirius Star” was attacked, hijacked or what ever you called, about 450’nm from land in an area well away from the usual dangerous and prone area to piracy (Somali waters, horn of Africa), this attack was done out at sea, off Kenya, well further South, showing a well managed organization involving large mother ships and not just the usual fast small boats, this mother ships give the range that pirates need o spread the attacks area and make escort from Navy vessels much more difficult.
Just to inform that “Sirius Star” was freed after a ransom of 3 millions US Dollars was paid to the pirates by the ship owner.
When you read reports about pirates attacks and you found that even with contracted and “well trained security agents” on board the vessels keeping to be high jacked, these agents are hired from apparently trustful Companies in security procedures and using the “most appropriated” devices such as LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Devices), or just the old “hoses spray over board” method, no real guns, were ineffective, this security agents “bravely” had jumped over board and later rescued by a helicopter from a British war ship I don’t know if this information is right so it must be taken cautiously, you as Master of a merchant vessel can’t feel secure even if you “go by the book” in relation with the ISPS Code.
All the best, keep safe out there, watch your back.