Seafarers have become the center of many initiatives to protect them from capture, torture and murder at the hands of pirates. Yet a long-term solution remains elusive.
By Wendy Laursen
Finding a Political Solution
A political, land-based solution to African piracy has yet to be achieved. The not-for-profit SaveOurSeafarers initiative represents 31 industry bodies and has worked with states to encourage them to look at long-term solutions. Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been reported to say that he could end piracy within a year if the international community would provide adequate funds and resources, including arms.
For Yuichi Sonoda, Secretary General of the Asian Shipowners’ Forum (ASF), the employment of private armed security guards is not a solution to the problem at a fundamental level. “The ASF has therefore put forward our proposal to seek the establishment of an UN-led Counter Piracy Task Force while awaiting root causes of the problem to be duly addressed on land,” says Sonoda.
There are about 40 military ships currently operating in the waters off Somalia. They come from navies around the world and, while it is claimed that they are having a significant effect, it is also claimed that some may have a second agenda. China’s navy is an example. Tension between India and China is well known, and piracy has historically been used as a way of creating a presence in an area that otherwise would appear suspicious from a military point of view, says Dr. Martin Murphy, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Despite the political angle, Murphy agrees that the current situation is not war. “Some of the tactics are close to the tactics of warfare, but it is not war because it hasn’t got the larger political dimension to it and war is quintessentially a political act.”
The broader agenda for global maritime security indicated by Murphy was apparent at an Asian security summit in June. India’s Minister for Defense made reference to attempts to “de-conflict contentious areas in the maritime domain.” Japan’s Senior Vice Minister of Defense spoke of his country’s attempts to “help prevent unnecessary tensions that could become escalated.” Summarizing the situation, he said, “I am afraid that the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region is becoming increasingly uncertain and unpredictable.”
No Time for Complacency
While a solution remains elusive, some may have become complacent. The number of ships with little or no security on board is still high, says UK-based security firm Ambrey Risk, and many still do not implement the Best Management Practices for Protection Against Somali-Based Piracy (BMP4) adopted by the IMO. Other security companies have reported ship operators wanting to cut the number of armed guards used or, with a team on board, wanting to return to normal vessel speed rather than the high speed recommended in BMP4.
There is another solution being voiced – that no more ransom money be paid. The seafarers currently being held captive, many of whose whereabouts and living conditions are unknown, would therefore be left indefinitely without hope. As it was, young Dipendra was held captive for a shattering 238 days before his ransom was paid: “Each morning I woke up on the hard metal floor wondering if that day I might die.” – MarEx
Wendy Laursen is a regular contributor to The Maritime Executive.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.