SAMI discusses ‘statistical concerns’ in relation to Somali piracy threat

shutterstock_105550352According to the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), despite a drop in overall attack figures, Somali piracy still poses a significant threat to shipping. As the monsoon season has dropped away it remains clear that pirates are heavily armed, determined and as eager to hijack vessels as ever.

A number of leading industry experts have voiced concerns that in the face of this sustained problem, that a lack of clear reporting is seeing the true scale of the problem masked. Indeed, concerns over the exact nature of the figures have prompted concerns that piracy attack statistics are somewhat at best misleading – while others have called them downright wrong.

Given the spate of recent attacks on tankers and fishing vessels it seems that the curse of “under reported” pirate attacks or misunderstood data are serious barriers to maritime security. As a result there are calls for an urgent review in the way that reports are generated, captured and ultimately promulgated.

It also seems that problems have emerged as the threshold for reporting has undergone a significant change over the past 18 months, due to the “dumbing down” of reports and a failure to report.

Speaking at a recent SAMI security workshop, there was universal agreement from a range of shipowner representatives that reporting piracy incidents required one point of contact. As a the debate evolved, they were able to offer stark examples of where things are going wrong and many saw clear problems of “too many cooks” appearing to cloud the picture.

There are increasing appeals for a single non-political independent reporting depository to solve the problem as the industry is becoming increasingly frustrated by the existing process. A process which has been characterised by one observer, as failing “to report incidents that we consider noteworthy” and to provide information for risk evaluation and mitigation.

The intelligence community appears to be in agreement on the need for piracy reporting to be focused through one point of contact. They claim there are clear problems, and a “too many cooks” issue appears to be clouding the picture. Different agencies have argued over potential piratical acts, with some seeing them as simply routine maritime activity. However, dramatic press often subsequently emerge and questions have to asked as to what should be reported and how.

Another player on the stage is the private maritime security companies. According to a number of SAMI member companies they receive substantial information regarding piracy incidents that does not always get reported. These companies have dedicated operations rooms, and a very strong network of field reporters in the form of operatives. It seems that they are getting a steady stream of intelligence which is either being ignored or covered up.

So why is reporting becoming such a toxic issue? According to some experts there are two immediate issues which could be driving the under-reporting phenomena: One is the fact that shipowners do not want to report incidents, and so they quell reports. With a desire to make life simple, and to perhaps influence insurers, there are allegations that shipping is working to minimise reports.

Unfortunately the shipping industry does not have a good track record on reporting, and whether from safety to the environment there is many a ship which fails to record and report incidents.

Another issue is the complication of verifying incidents as piracy incidents. It seems that defining a pirate attack is one thing, but actually recognising one is something else altogether. As the use of shipboard armed guards has increased, pirates are a little more subtle in their approaches, quite literally. Guards frequently report far more “probing incidents” in which potential pirates maintain their cover by not overtly attacking.

When is a skiff manned by a group of pirates or just fishermen looking for their next catch? The answer is dictated by their ultimate actions – if the boat crew suspect or confirm that a vessel is armed, they will not likely take the steps which turn them from suspicious persons at sea into fully fledged pirates. So actually statistically accounting for them is incredibly hard.

Steven Jones, Maritime Director, SAMI

Increasingly vessels in the High Risk Area (HRA) are subjected to incidents that appear to co-ordinated small boat piracy approaches but, because they choose not to ultimately attack, they are not necessarily classified as piracy or a suspicious approach.

It seems clear that the problem is both simple, in that we need to effectively capture data on pirates, but at the same time it is exquisitely complex, in so far as shipowners do not always wish to make reports. Then there is the fact that all too often maritime  security companies are accused of scaremongering if they do report, and the agencies charged with collecting and collating, aren’t sure what they are meant to be gathering, for whom and for what purpose.

For these reasons a single lead agency approach or an agreed framework of data capture and analysis seem to be the only options. However there seems to be little agreement as to who should take on this role and it seems that we are no closer to a solution. Sadly the lack of definitive figures makes it hard to ensure that the right security resources are brought to bear on to the piracy problems. While there are concerns about complacency and security fatigue creeping in, it is perhaps understandable when the statistics are mired in uncertainty.

Western Approaches

As the global focal point for maritime security matters, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) has expressed concern that the piracy situation off the West Coast of Africa has been rapidly deteriorating throughout 2013 and as the year approaches its end, there is little sign of progress.

The levels of robbery and hijackings off the Nigerian coast and elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea are a real cause for concern.  Indeed the security problems have been spiralling to such an extent that the area is becoming engulfed in what the United Nations (UN) has described as a “catastrophe” as a record number of attacks have been launched against shipping in the area.

As an illustration of the current state of play, the International Maritime Bureau figures claim there to have been ten Somali related piracy incidents in 2013, while Nigeria related incidents in the same period are up to 28 reported incidents including two hijackings.

Concern about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has long been mounting but it wasn’t until 2010 which saw a real turning point and escalation in attacks against loaded product tankers. The tankers are hijacked by criminals and taken to a location where the cargo is illegally discharged into a smaller vessel. The one positive is that usually the ship and crew are released, and although violence is often used against them during the hijack period the real focus is on stealing the cargo, not to kidnap or kill the crew.

In 2011 the UN Security Council issued resolution 2018 “expressing its deep concern about the threat that piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea pose to international navigation, security and the economic development of states in the region”. The Security Council also called for “a comprehensive solution to the problem of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea”.

Two years on, and it seems the strategy is not quite yet working. The resolution fell short of authorising other States to enter territorial waters to repress piracy and as such critics felt it to be inadequate.

Perhaps predictably West African piracy has now overtaken the Somali iteration as the biggest threat to shipping, and this does seem to suggest that a stronger tack is needed. To combat piracy off Somalia the UN Security Council called upon states and regional organisations to fight piracy with naval vessels, arms and military aircraft, but resolution 2018 simply expressed “concern”, which however “deep” does not seem to be having the desired effect.

Of course West Africa and Somalia are very different, whereas the latter is a “failed State”; the former is surrounded by littoral States which are simply having problems applying any rule of law out at sea. It may be that the same lessons learned off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean are not wholly transferable. However, it seems that with the European Union Naval force stating that it will not extend operations over on the west coast, and with private security not yet an option then it will be very difficult to envisage the catalyst for security change on the region.

With the problems of maritime security gripping such large swathes of West Africa some have asked whether governments in piracy affected areas are doing enough to combat the spread and effect of crime.

There has been ever greater recognition of the problem and most nations have entered into dialogue on potential ways of combating piracy. So it seems that most governments in piracy affected areas are acting.

However it seems unclear as to how such discourse, agreements to share information, and moves to create the means to prosecute pirates is translating into actual, tangible and real action to reduce the number and severity of attacks.

As the security situation around the West Coast of Africa deteriorates there have been pleas from littoral nations for support and assistance. It seems that many do not possess the military, the naval, coast guard or customs resources to deal with piracy in the region.

The European Union has reported preparations to increase security efforts in the Gulf of Guinea. German Rear Admiral Jurgen Ehle, heads an EU military working group for West Africa and has been on record as stating the EU Gulf of Guinea strategy is less to send ships, but will focus on “military advice” and civilian programmes to curb poverty, which is fuelling much of the unrest.

Despite recent Codes of Conduct and agreements, some observers have claimed the “polarized and politicized” nature of the region would make it highly unlikely that unified solutions can be found which is hugely concerning, and suggests that such insecurity and rising piracy attacks are set to continue unchecked.

Learning Lessons

SAMI_logoWhile there is concern about piracy off West Africa, it is not all doom and gloom as one initiative has seemingly borne positive results. This has been the establishment of a Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria to protect vessels operating in the region and surrounding High Risk Areas (HRA).

The SAA is a secure place where vessels can anchor safe from the threat of pirate attack. It is protected by a Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ), which is patrolled 24/7/365 by multiple armed Patrol Boats (PBs).

It is perhaps the lessons from such small scale successes which can be rolled out on a larger scale and which may well see the development of other such policed exclusion zones.

While it is perhaps all too easy to be critical in the face of worsening attacks, it seems that efforts are indeed being exerted on all sides. Governments are trying to find answers while military powers and private maritime security companies are looking to the best, most effective ways of providing the necessary solutions.

It is to be hoped that things can be progressed and that finally the rising tide of West African piracy can be turned. When looking for answers, it could be that lessons on how to manage piracy can be learned rather closer to the Gulf of Guinea than many may have thought.

As the area seemingly descends into an ever deepening piracy crisis, one nation seems to have avoided any serious pirates attack over the years. That nation is Ghana. Is this a case of good fortune, or good government, or can it be based on strong rule of law or a powerful military presence?

How can one nation which is so close to a high risk area of piracy seemingly emerge unscathed by the problems of its neighbours? Indeed where there are successes can the lessons be spread elsewhere in the region?

Ghana is an outward facing nation, one that places significant importance on its maritime trade links. Indeed at a recent Ghana Shippers’ Authority conference it was claimed that country generated over 70 per cent of its revenue from the shipping industry, while over 90 per cent of Ghana’s international trade is sea borne. Without clear, safe and secure sea-lanes the nation could well be in trouble.

Further to this with the discovery of oil and the current economic growth in the country, Ghana could be vulnerable if piracy were to ignite in its waters – but at the moment the nation appears relatively immune to the security problems simmering elsewhere.

The country recognises the importance of keeping its waters secure, and the need to ensure proper safeguarding of oil and gas manufacturing site and its territorial waters.

When searching for answers as to the success of a nation in maintaining peace, law and order it is important to examine the role of government and of the satisfaction within its populace. Often a good barometer of this relationship is the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. In their 2012 figures Ghana ranked at just 64 in the world, which is far below any of its neighbours – with the Lloyd’s Joint War Risk listed areas ranking at Togo 128, Benin 94, Nigeria 139.  Across the whole of Africa only Namibia and Botswana rank as less corrupt.

It seems that where there is a trusted and respected government, then there is a hope of security.  Ghana’s stability in its home rule has translated into a positive and engaging foreign policy. The broad objectives of Ghana’s foreign policy are reportedly focused on maintaining friendly relations and cooperation with all countries that desire such cooperation, irrespective of ideological considerations, on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

The nation is a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and enthusiastically endorsed formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975.  This organisation was created specifically to foster inter-regional economic and political cooperation, something which has seemingly worked rather well for Ghana.

The current Ghanaian government continues to work to improve and to strengthen relations with all of its neighbours, especially Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and this has seen great improvement in relationships in the region. Indeed in light of these good relations the Ghanaian navy is considered to be relatively small.

Another driver of piracy is often seen to be poverty – indeed the European Union has recently stated that a major strand of its Gulf of Guinea security strategy will be based not on sending ships to police the waters, but on trying to alleviate poverty.

Ghana once again seems to rank highly in this regard, indeed the BBC states that Ghana has one of the highest GDP per capita in Africa and is actually one of the top–ten fastest growing economies in the world, and the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Writing in a newly published Nautical Institute book, “Coping with Piracy”, a theory has been outlined which seeks to predict the drivers of piracy, and which can be applied to areas as a means of assessing how likely they may be to pose maritime security problems.

According to “Piracy triangle” theory three main factors lead to, and subsequently drive, piracy in a particular region. These are

  • Political and religious instability

Politically unstable areas tend to suffer from law enforcement regimes that are either inefficient or do not view piracy as a priority.

  • Geographic or territorial complexity

This allows pirates to hide and to move between jurisdictions/territorial waters/high seas to avoid capture and prosecution.

  • Economic disparity

In areas of poverty the temptation to plunder vessels can be strong. Locals are more susceptible to the overtures of organised crime.

The theory is based on the concept of the “fire triangle” in which heat, fuel and oxygen are all necessary to support combustion. The piracy triangle theory works in the same way. If one or more of the three drivers listed above are removed, then piracy will be reduced or may disappear completely.

Where piracy has burst forth conflicts combined with poor economic conditions and insufficient security by the local government(s) have led to increases in piracy incidents. It seems that at the moment at least Ghana is managing to hold firm in this regard – indeed it seems that the stability, wealth distribution are the best safeguards the nation could have.

That is not to say the threat is completely removed – and things can descend quickly. Recent press reports claim the Ghanaian economy may be retrogressing into a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) status, and there are warnings that Ghana’s domestic debt stock has ballooned beyond that of many countries and has therefore expressed fears of the worst for the economy.

This is a major concern, and if not kept in check could begin to see the sides of the piracy triangle slowly build, and thus there could be security issues unless the means to better police and manage security in the region are developed.

It would seem a tragedy if the calm and peaceful waters of this nation were to be dragged into the piracy disease which has struck so many of its neighbours, and it is to be hoped Ghana can retain and maintain it security by understanding the foundations of governance and prosperity which have seemingly kept it safe to date.

One Question, Many Answers

When shipowners ask about solutions to protect them from piracy, more often than not the only real answer has been to look to armed guards. While this was a relatively straightforward off Somalia, off West Africa it has been almost impossible to transfer the same levels of protection and deterrent.

For those wishing to work around the many coastal State requirements within territorial waters, the answer has been to use imported private maritime security expertise and local operatives. There has been a trend for private maritime security companies (PMSCs) use their own people as unarmed team leaders/advisors, managing armed local operatives onboard.

There are a number of companies which believe this to be the only model which can legally satisfy the demands of working off West Africa, but there are concerns as to whether industry can solely rely on local guards and the Nigerian navy for protection and deterrent against pirates.

It is the belief of many that access to use the private maritime security sector is intrinsic to a credible mean of piracy prevention; and that its continued absence in the Gulf of Guinea has allowed maritime criminal activity to continue and indeed thrive unchecked.

While the debate about armed guards rolls on, it seems there are other lessons which can be transferred from tackling piracy off Somalia, and the use of sophisticated options, such as citadels, tracking devices and camera systems. A number of leading shipowners have united in the view that BMP vessel hardening, citadels, and warning reports have real value off the West Coast and they want these to be embraced as a part of a sustainable security solution.

The evolving debate on security options does hint at progress, but in the meantime seafarers and shipping is suffering. Once more it seems we seem to be mired in a piracy problem which cannot be fixed without addressing the root causes. Whether it is ships off Nigeria or Somalia, without criminal prosecutions, an active coastguard, and realistic long-term solution, then pirates will remain and seafarers, vessels, and cargoes will be taken. It is a very simple equation, without protection, without deterrent then shipping is left without a hope.

Whenever the issue of armed guards is debated the one unified concern is the need for standards, checks and reassurance. The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) represents the interests of the private maritime security industry, and as such we recognise and promote the inherent value of the benefits this industry brings to shipping.

It is perhaps rather clichéd now, but the fact remains that no vessel has yet been taken with armed guards onboard. This is something of which the security companies are rightly proud, but also it shows the value of the protection and deterrent which can be provided. From a time when Somali pirates were attacking and hijacking with almost impunity, things have changed and security has played a significant role in this.

However, there have been real challenges in ensuring that private security providers are indeed able to provide assurance as to the standards they work within and prescribe to. SAMI has been at the forefront of a number of key developments which are shaping the private maritime security industry. The establishment of the “SAMI Standard” drawn from IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) Circulars 1405 & 1406 for PMSCs was an important phase, and this subsequently became one of the foundation documents upon which ISO PAS 28007 was based.

It has been the innovative work of SAMI which has pushed forward a number of key industry developments and which have brought the maritime security providers ever closer to the shipping industry.  In the early days, the nascent maritime security industry was likened to a flat plate trying to grow the teeth so that it could mesh with the complex gears of shipping rules, regulations and legislation. Indeed without the touch-points of legal compliance, standardisation and insurance it would be unlikely that security could ever be embraced by its client base, and SAMI has been at the forefront of these efforts and this has been hugely successful in creating the maritime security market we see today.

Are international, standardised regulations regarding armed guards in development? Are the differences between flag states’ rules on private security companies affecting the industry?

As stated, the baton on Standards and regulation was passed through the initial self-regulation concept, via the IMO and handed over to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), and they have developed the standards against which private maritime security companies (PMSCs) will be assessed. The current process has seen a number of companies assessed through a pilot programme, and now the Certifying Bodies themselves are being assessed for compliance by the International Accreditation Forum. Once approved, then the scheme will begin to be rolled out across the industry.

The proposal of the IMO was that the ISO scheme would be the de-facto standard and flag States would perhaps be able to tack on some of their own small scale unique requirements. Unfortunately it seems there is a trend towards some flag States increasing the demands to an unsustainable level. While, as am example, the German flag has done much excellent work, there are concerns that some of their specific demands are not wholly necessary and will increase both the cost and the complication of achieving their recognition. Issues such as in-depth knowledge of German law and a requirement to carry pistols are seen by some as unnecessary hurdles to compliance.

This is a concern, and SAMI is working to provide flag States with reassurance that the ISO system is robust enough to satisfy their wider needs, while accepting that they will have some smaller scale unique demands.

SAMI continues to work to bridge the gap between shipping and security, the association provides the expert input from members to flag States, regulators, insurers and the wider industry. The information flow is two-way, as SAMI is then able to promulgate the necessary requirements PMSCs need to ensure that both sides of the equation are focused on developing legal, ethical, practical standards which protect seafarers, cargoes, vessels and ultimately world trade.

Having said that, the SAMI membership is not solely focused on the provision of armed guards – and it is likely that breakthroughs will come as a result in the use of cutting edge equipment, technology and hardware. Changes to routing, spotting dangers and interrogating big data will be key to the future, so too might changes to vessel design and there is much work being done to bring the right security to shipping, and to ultimately combat piracy.

Steven Jones

Maritime Director

The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI)

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