Those guys that go “ooh ar” and run around swinging cutlasses from behind a guy with a wooden leg and a parrot on his shoulder and a hook for a hand? No, dispel that image immediately as they are not that sort of cutthroat at all. Pirates are around and with us here today and as with all things in life they have modernized their methods, disposed of the parrots and hooks for hands, and the Pirates Union strictly states that those with wooden legs can not become members.
The modern day pirate could be a group of desperate ex-fisherman carrying machetes and the odd pistol or two, coming onboard to steal whatever they can get their hands on the odd mooring rope, a can of paint or two, and if they are lucky the gold watch that the Boson wears. Or they could be a highly organized bunch of professionals armed to the teeth with machine guns, wearing camouflage and prepared to kill at the drop of a hat. These latter groups are not after the odd can of paint, they may be after the cargo that the ship carries in its holds or tanks and even after the ship itself.
The pirates can come aboard the vessel in a variety of ways. The favorite for the poorer pirates is whilst the ship is in port, sneaking up the gangway, clambering up the sides of the ship from small bumboats, or shinning up mooring ropes at the bow or stern. These pirates are just out for what they can get that has not been tied down or locked away, opportunists and desperate. They will typically be armed with knives and although not looking to fight they will attack if they think that they are under threat and cannot escape.
The richer pirate will be well organized and it is often thought to have inside information as to what cargo is on the ship and what the ship’s name is before it appears over the horizon. These richer pirates tend to go for ships that are at anchor or even those underway and these pirates are prepared to kill without a blink of an eye. They may come onboard simply by pulling alongside in bumboats or fast-speed boats and clambering aboard by whatever means.
Or they may employ tricks to get under the guard of the crew of the ship. For example, the pirates may pretend to be in distress and thus call for help from the passing ship, they may pretend to be refugees escaping from some terror rule or they may simply pretend to have broken down and thus require help. In each situation, the Captain has to make a decision as to the urgency of the supposed distress and if he gets it wrong he finds that he has a heavily armed bunch of cutthroats onboard his vessel with all the guns pointing at him.
Another less used method of getting onboard is the harmless fishing boat trick! The Captain will be steering his vessel through a fishing ground and before he knows it two of the fishing boats have turned into fast speedboats and are alongside before he can say whoops. Or the pirates can employ the rope across the bow trick. There they are, two harmless fishing boats and there is the big ship steaming through the middle of them and at a safe distance. But the pirates have strung a strong rope between their two boats and as the larger vessel plows between them the rope catches across the bow and the two smaller vessels are rapidly pulled alongside the hull of the vessel as it passes. From a simple passage between two fishing boats to having armed cutthroats in control could be a matter of minutes.
But Captains and companies are becoming hardened to the possibility of Pirate attacks. Unsafe areas are known and clearly marked on charts. Captains no longer carry cash on board the ship for wages or stores. Pirate precautions are taken whenever the ship passes through known pirate areas and vessels do not anchor in weird and dark places nor do they slow steam when in a dangerous pirate country.
Typically when passing through such an area massive security precautions are taken by the crew of the vessel. All doors are tied down from the inside thus allowing only one exit to be used by all personnel. This door is usually on the bridge where adequate bodies are available to secure it should unwanted persons get onboard at the main deck level. Searchlights are deployed to check the water around the vessel for foreign objects. Fire hoses are rigged and often charged to fight off and prevent anyone from clambering up the sides. A double watch is kept on the bridge with extra personnel doing overtime to keep a good lookout in all directions. And of course, the vessel’s speed is pushed up to the maximum to make it as hard as possible to come alongside or clamber onto a smaller boat.
There are other possibilities to repel boarders like the new system that has been produced by an innovative electronics company in the UK, a collapsible fence that is fitted around the bulwarks of a vessel to repel boarders. Able to operate in all weather conditions this fence is raised when underway and should anybody attempt to clamber onboard they will receive a painful but not deadly shock of 9000volts. The advert and the equipment do sound good but a few things may prohibit its functionality and its ultimate use on all vessels.
Price will be one thing as it will most likely cost a fortune to buy and to fit. And then there is this thought: That a pirate clambers up to say the side of a ULCC, gets to the top, and then receives a nasty jolt to his system, letting go he falls fifteen meters to land on the mast of his small speed boat that was positioned directly beneath him. In this strange world thieves and I suppose therefore pirates have rights and I am sure that should one pirate die from receiving this jolt repercussions would be sure to follow in one form or another. And the system is open to mistakes like forgetting to switch it off when the Pilot heaves himself onboard ……ouch!
If the pirates come onboard simply as opportunists then a couple of mooring ropes, a few planks of wood, and a tin of blue paint are deemed a good prize. The pirates simply want to come on board when the ship is asleep, take what they can get, and then vanish as quietly as they came. In this type of situation, it is far safer to have had everything locked away than to lock yourself away. The cost of the stolen items is negligible and little harm is done. But should the serious pirates gain access to the vessel then trouble is on the horizon. The worst trouble can be from confronting these heavily armed and dangerous people and doing this can result in a death or two amongst the crew members. Should these pirates gain access and control to the vessel then do not confront them, do what they want submissively and keep your mouth shut. Many a captain or crew member has been shot or seriously wounded whilst trying to preserve or maintain control.
If the pirates are after the vessel and its cargo then the crew are often tied up and placed into the small boat that the pirates came in. These are serious people and not to be taken lightheartedly. The pirates are often after valuable cargoes like Palm Oil or Gas Oil, cargoes that can easily be transferred to other vessels or to a shore facility and sold onwards without the possibility of it being traced or backtracked. The vessel itself can then be sold onwards to other parties, repainted and renamed, and appear halfway across the world with no trace as to how it got there. Or they can simply scupper the vessel, removing what they want as scrap and then sinking the boat deep into the ocean thus leaving no trace behind.
Some reports have been received that vessels taken over in this manner have then proceeded to continue trading, picking up cargo in another port and then vanishing once again before interested parties wake up to the scam.
So where are the Pirates? Reported incidents for 2002 are as follows:
Gulf of Aden/red Sea: 11
Malacca Straits: 16
It can be seen that Indonesia is the worst of the lot, but as a whole, The Malacca Straits is the place to be wary of as on one side is Indonesia and on the other is Malaysia so if it is going to happen to your ship it may well be as you steam through.
It is also of noteworthy interest to say that the number of incidents recorded is on the rise. 106 cases of piracy have been recorded in 1992. By 2002 there were 370 reported incidents and this is through yearly increases. The statistics go on to say that: the majority of ships have been boarded whilst at anchor, 10 crew members were killed by pirates in 2001 and 97 serious injuries and there were twenty-five hijackings (or attempted ones) in 2002. The professionalism and desperation of these elements are growing as the records show.
Seven Month Drama
Six Georgian crew members were held for ransom on their vessel in Somalia. Held captive for seven months but managed to escape by overpowering their captors. The Pirates or terrorists depending on what you want o call them demanded 600,000US Dollars for the release of the crew. Supposedly they got 100,000US dollars before the crew managed to escape. The surprising thing is that even after seven months in captivity upon escaping they managed to crank up their vessel and head for “Yemen”. Probably not a good place to head for in afterthought as pirates are known to operate in Yemen waters as well! Nothing more was heard though from them so we have to presume that they got home safely. Or not?
In other parts of the world, recent reports have appeared from Ho Chi Min City and from the container terminal in Dar Es Salaam which says little for large International Ports with high security. Incidences were also reported from Chittagong, Port Harcourt, in Cuban waters, in Dakar Roads, Senegal, and from Callao in Peru. Indonesia naturally came up high with reports from Samarinda of a tug hijacked by ten pirates and a tanker boarded at Lawi Law. All over the world, one could say, and quite a broad spectrum.
With this large increase in pirate attacks and with the increased security concerns around the world, what is being done about these attacks if anything and is there any measures in place to curb or monitor these attacks? Yes, is the answer but the scope and scale of the problem are so large that little can be done to catch the culprits in action, and anyway, who is responsible for the financial aspect of such a project.
Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia conduct patrols of their waters at ever frequent intervals. But the area involved and the hundreds of small Islands and possible hideaways prevent a full-scale watch from being conducted. Ships make patrols but the chance of catching a pirate in action is minimal. The other means to catching a pirate in action is to have a fast reaction squad at hand. This requires a central monitoring facility and for any ship under attack to be able to report immediately and silently so that the pirates are unaware as to the call having been made. But again the area is so large and the possibilities so great that the chances of getting help to the stricken vessel in time are minimal and so far this course of response has made no inroads into the problem.
The main Piracy Reporting center is based in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and is run by the International Maritime Board and the International Chamber of Commerce. The center coordinates and controls reporting and statistics on acts of piracy from all over the world and sends out via satellite a daily digest of recent attacks and areas to be wary of. The service is free of charge to all ship-owners regardless of class, flag, or ownership. Armed with reported information the IMB in conjunction with the International Transport Federation will investigate and present to the Governments concerned any information or deductions that they have gleaned from individual incidents. These governments can then go after or coordinate action against the criminal elements if the evidence is sufficient. But again the areas involved are so large that the possibilities of catching these criminals are very small.
The best means to combat modern-day piracy on the high seas is to follow the few basic rules stated previously. To not anchor in unsafe places, to maintain a careful watch when underway and at anchor, to report any occurrences or incidents immediately, to batten and secure the vessel down at all times, to maintain full speed when passing through these areas, and to have adequate security precautions in place like-charged fire hoses at the ready to repel boarders. And if Pirates should get onboard to be calm and to give them whatever they want. There is no point in being a dead hero!