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Ship owners turn to armed guards as piracy risk deepens

By | December 30th 2010

By John Oyuke

Maritime security in the East Coast of Africa is likely to deteriorate this coming week, as harsh weather conditions in the Arabian Sea and the northern Somali Basin drive pirate activities southwards.

Coastlines of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique are likely to see increased pirate activities during the second half of December and January.

"All mariners transiting in these areas are warned that pirates are active herein," says the latest assessment by Nato Shipping Centre.

The Centre, which advises merchant shipping of potential risks and identifies possible interference with maritime operations, indicates that weather conditions in the Arabian Sea and northern Somali Basin are worsening, making it unfavourable to pirate activities, particularly small boats.

It added, vigilant watches, early detection of vessels manoeuvring too close, early reporting and the adoption of the Best Management Practices are the keys for remaining safe in the Indian Ocean within 15_S and 78_E.

It cautioned that pirated dhows and at least one MV, The Izumi are active as mother ships in the deep Somali Basin possibly around the Seychelles.

Pirate activities in the approach from Seychelles south-westerly towards Mombasa and Dar es Salam, as well as the approach from the Mozambique channel towards Dar es Salam, has been minimal in the past week, but nevertheless resulted in the attack of MV Panama.

Effective and cheap

The Nato assessment has coincided with reports that ship owners are turning to armed guards for piracy protection, arguing that hiring professional security personnel is both a more effective way of protecting ships from attack and also cheaper than other evasive measures.

Those operators that now regularly have private armed guards on board vessels operating in areas at risk of attack from Somali pirates are thought to include some of the world’s top names, according to Lloyd’s List, a leading daily newspaper for the global maritime industry.

The reports, however, add that despite increased employment of armed guards on ships sailing in pirate-infested waters, no owner is prepared to go public at a time when governments, ship owner associations and naval forces remain opposed to weapons on commercial vessels.

The closest any operator has come to publicly supporting armed guards on ships is Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which said a few months ago it was considering that possibility, given the frequency of attempted hijacks in the Gulf of Aden and Somali basin.

Since then, MSC has had a chartered ship seized, and denounced the naval forces for failing to come to the aid of the hijacked vessel.


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