REVIEW - Global Trade Vulnerable Amid Pirate Threat Unless World Addresses Maritime Security

REVIEW - Global Trade Vulnerable Amid Pirate Threat Unless World Addresses Maritime Security

JOHANNESBURG (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 24th March, 2021) The international community needs to pay more attention to maritime security to protect global trade amid increased cases of piracy and abductions at sea, especially in the Gulf of Guinea.

According to Cyrus Mody, the head of the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in the UK, people should not forget that nearly everything around them is either completely or partly manufactured someplace overseas and is transported to their countries by sea.

"People are not aware of maritime because it is out of sight. It is for that reason people take it for granted. People who ferry these goods and services face difficulties, like stress and anxiety, because of the nature of the job. Maritime security is not only important for the global economy but also for passengers and crew, residents of coastal and port areas, and the environment," Mody told Sputnik.

The IMB UK office head believes that making international agreements on safety at sea will ensure the everlasting flow of goods and services to and from trading states. The expert, in particular, referred to the SafeSeaNet vessel traffic monitoring and information system developed by the European Maritime Safety Agency to enable the EU member states to exchange data.

"It ensures better monitoring of vessels sailing in European waters through maritime safety, port and maritime security, marine environment protection, and efficiency of maritime traffic and maritime transport," Mody added.

MARITIME REGULATIONS WELL-ORGANIZED BUT FORGOTTEN BY GOVERNMENTS

According to the IMB expert, seafarers and crew members are regularly faced with piracy, an old crime that "often at times robs countries, families and shipping companies their most valuable personnel."

"They are faced with a unique crime. It is an old crime of robbery, from the seafarer perspective, it is one thing, like someone boarding the vessel, ship, or attacking or holding them hostage, a different additional set of stress which the seafarers face," Mody said.

While the idea of working at sea is fascinating, one staff member is regularly confronted with the uncertainty of hostages, the expert said, noting that this is because governments give intra-state mattes far more priority than that of its coastal territories.

"When this crime occurs outside the coastal waters of a state, it is referred to as piracy. If it happens inside, it is an armed robbery. These two types of crimes will then make you understand who has to respond. If this crime occurs within the coastal territories of one state, then the coastal state or navy would have to deal with the situation," Mody said.

If it happens outside nautical miles, the responsibility will not only lay on the particular state but also on others involved in ensuring that area's security. For example, when piracy happened off the coast of Somalia in 2007, the country did not respond to the attack because it was a failed state and had no coastal guard. It was the international community that assisted in dealing with all the attacks occurring outside Somalia.

INCREASED ATTACKS IN GULF OF GUINEA

The ICC's International Commercial Crime Services have recently urged ships and crew transiting the Gulf of Guinea to remain alert and not let their guard down following reports that 15 crew members of the Dutch company De Poli Shipmanagement's vessel were kidnapped around 210 sea miles from Benin's city of Cotonou earlier in March. The IMB warned that this attack could signal a reigniting of serious kidnapping incidents in the Gulf of Guinea after a period of quietness.

IMB data shows that the Gulf of Guinea recorded the highest-ever number of crew kidnapped in 2020, with 130 crew members held hostage in 22 separate incidents.

The previous record high was in 2019 when 121 crew were abducted in 17 incidents.

"The Gulf of Guinea presents a mixture of crime. Inside and outside, if we go to Southeast Asia, Singapore, ... and a few ports of Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia, they experience armed robberies because they are inside, and often it is the responsibility of those countries to [deal with these crimes]. This crime is like a spectrum, on the lowest end people board a vessel and steal and run away, they do not like confrontation. This is happening more in Southeast Asia, the ship is boarded then taken over by pirates who steal cargo, or keep the ship anchored and negotiate for ransom," Mody said.

As for the Gulf of Guinea, criminals loot and do a lot of damage, take the crew and hold them ransom it is always a direct risk to the crew who are either killed or injured, the IMB official said, adding that though this is not a regular thing, it does happen.

"This is an out-of-sight job which is very difficult for the government to justify resources to tackle this crime. In order for trade coming into countries to move unhindered, governments must plead for assistance from the international community," the director added.

Mody went on to say that the shipping industry was deeply concerned about piracy and robberies off the Gulf of Guinea's 11 countries, as there had been an increase in crew kidnappings and taken ashore with a ransom.

"Other countries within the Gulf have a good response capability but [do not use it] efficiently, a lot of projects [are] underway to try and address this crime, it has been happening for a number of years now, something needs to be done quicker and in atimely manner to safeguard seafarers," Mody said.

According to the expert, lessons learned had largely to do with the media's sensational way of reporting news on this sensitive matter. As when the media becomes involved in such cases, pirates end up increasing their demands, which places victims in a precarious situation.

"While there is a definite need for media to talk about this, there is a balance of delicacy that needs to be played, because, in Somalia, media wanted to talk on specific incidents, but they are used to be consequences, hence it would be difficult to give enough information because it would backfire and that is the last thing we need.We need resources to assist a ship out at sea. If crews are kidnapped, we first have to identify who the kidnappers are, as difficulties and sensitivities come to light and it is a complex area," Mody explained.

In 2020, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre received 195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, in comparison to 162 in 2019. The incidents included three hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 20 attempted attacks, and 161 vessels boarded. The rise is attributed to an increase of piracy and armed robbery reported within the Gulf of Guinea, as well as increased armed robbery activity in the Singapore Straits.

Globally, 135 crew were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95 percent of crew members kidnapped.

Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of multiple crew kidnappings. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, the Gulf of Guinea saw 39 crew kidnapped in two separate incidents. Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous, as over 80 percent of attackers were armed with guns, according to the latest IMB figures. All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 occurred in this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25 percent of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea more than any other region in the world.