The severity of piracy has been demonstrated by recently released figures which state that in 2011 there were 176 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean alone. These piracy attacks also led to a total of $135m being paid in ransoms and a total cost for the shipping industry of around $12bn.
Somalia has been the piracy capital in recent years and piracy has become a business in the African country, with wealthy backers often sending rural residents into the waters along the Somalian coastline to seize ships and retrieve ransoms. Puntland is the best example of this and the influence of piracy here was demonstrated by satellite imagery from the last decade indicating that piracy has had positive effects on the Puntland economy. The Somalian government has employed anti piracy efforts to arrest the problem by training marines and deploying them to combat piracy along the coastline, yet with around 40 vessels and a total of 400 hostages currently being held nearby Somalia.
In an effort to stop piracy the UK government has recently visited Somalia in order to evaluate possible ways to tackle the problem while keeping an eye on how UK aid is spent. UK aid is currently used for police training and initiatives designed to improve the state of the economy and reduce reliance on criminal activity, such as markets created with the purpose of creating trades and jobs in communities. In spite of these efforts piracy has not reduced significantly and the UK government has determined that stronger action is required. A conference will be held in the UK later this year with the purpose of generating further international aid and determining how piracy can be stopped in both the short and long term.
Marine security and anti piracy measures should be undertaken by all vessels and shipping companies as this can sometimes be the only way to deter pirates. Last year a group of British marines made headlines by capturing a group of Somali pirates who had seized a ship. Thanks to the use of an armoured shelter installed aboard the ship and a series of anti piracy training sessions undertaken beforehand, the crew were able to avoid the advances of the pirates. The shelter was fitted with controls for the vessel and the crew were able to manoeuvre it into waters where piracy patrols frequently take place.
From the safety of the shelter the crew of the Montecristo were able to raise the alarm and a message in a bottle was launched into the sea, alerting authorities of the situation when it was found by a royal auxiliary ship in open water. As the ship had been fitted with maritime security measures, the weapons taken aboard by Somali pirates were rendered useless as the armoured shelter was able to withstand them. Without anti piracy measures in place it is likely that the pirates would have attacked the crew and used them as hostages in a ransom attempt.
Last month UK businessman and entrepreneur Anthony Sharp announced that he was planning to fight back against pirates who are impacting on trade and the global economy. Sharp is launching an initiative titled 'Typhon' aimed at protecting ship owners and those trading via the seas. Likened to a private navy, the scheme has seen Sharp recruit many key figures in marine industries, including ex marines, a former legionnaire, a past head of US naval forces and an ex member of the allied forces. Also involved will be other key figures from the maritime security industry with a wealth of experience.
The concept is that ships will be brought together in safe locations and transported safely in a convoy, by a mothership and a series of smaller boats patrolling the group. They will be assisted by unarmed aerial vehicles that can identify potential threats from miles away, adding to the safety of the transported vessels.
With the number of boats seized and the total cost of ransom payments it is likely that the ‘Typhon’ initiative will be a success as it provides greater protection to vessels, improving their ability to trade. The scheme can also offer companies reduced insurance premiums through usage of the programme, with Sharp stating that he has received, in writing, that insurance companies are willing to reduce the cost of insurance by 50% where ‘Typhon’ is used. This is because the risk involved and the likelihood of ransom payments being required will be lowered considerably.