First, we do all we can to prevent the pirates from boarding.
In the Gulf of Aden alone, there was an average of more than five attacks per week from January to May 2011. The costs of piracy are estimated to be as high as US$16 billion annually – costs paid by shipping companies, their customers and inevitably everyone else.
Captain Peter Jodin, Safety Manager for Wallenius Marine AB, explains that the ship owners, Wilh. Wilhelmsen and Wallenius Lines, have put into place a range of countermeasures to keep the crew, cargo and ship safe when passing through the Gulf of Aden and other particularly dangerous areas.
“The objective is to prevent the pirates from boarding,” says Jodin. “As long as the vessel can maintain full speed, it’s very hard for them to get onboard.”
All crew are trained before the vessel arrives in the area, and additional crew members may be added for increased safety.
“The training is about how to handle the situation,” Jodin explains. “The crew need to know what to do and what precautions to take. We also inform them of who these people are and what you can expect from them – what are the dangers involved.”
Passing through the Gulf of Aden area takes four or five days. There are many preparations to be made before the vessel speeds up, and the crew must be on high alert and keep watch the entire time.
Even more important, perhaps, is good information. Jodin has continuous contact with vessels in dangerous areas, in order to check their preparations, ensure that the companies’ guidelines are followed and share information through incident reports and briefings.
“Vessels also send daily position reports to the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) in Dubai, which is the communication link between the merchant fleet and all the navy forces in the area,” says Jodin. “If anything happens, UKMTO can contact the appropriate navy forces in the area.”
The precautions needed, and consequently the costs of ensuring safe operations, are increasing as pirates grow more aggressive and better equipped. “As the operator of the ships, we’re the ones footing the bill: war-risk premiums paid to insurance companies; the deviation of the vessels to safer routes; running ships at full speed, and so on,” says Johan Mattsson, Head of Tonnage & Trade for WWL.
“Because the vessels must go fast, driving up fuel costs, you’d think that at least you’d be gaining time,” Mattsson says. “Actually, it doesn’t help at all, since you have to slow down again when you enter the Red Sea.”
Avoiding the Gulf of Aden is a possibility, Mattsson says, but not an attractive one. “Ships can head south after departure from Singapore and travel to Europe via the tip of South Africa. This diversion adds at least a week, however, and takes more fuel. Most of our ships also have port calls in the Mediterranean, so they’ll have to sail back through Gibraltar. It’s expensive, and they may miss their contracted delivery times.”
But, even if all WWL ships sail on safely, the costs of piracy will keep piling up. “One thing the experts agree on is that resolving this issue is going to be very difficult, some say harder than finding a solution in Afghanistan – piracy will be with us for some time to come,” Mattsson concludes.