As pirates raise the stakes on a number of key ocean trades, simple, cost-effective preventive measures can be put in place to protect ships and their crew in a matter of hours, according to Paul Friedberg, President of Goltens Worldwide Services.
"We offer a service out of our Fujairah facility which encompasses the installation of a combination of razor wire and hoistable spikes which effectively prevents the boarding of merchant vessels by pirates," he explains. "We've already kitted out 24 Vela VLCCs, six Prisco VLCCs and six more VLCCs each belonging to Teekay and Chevron."
"I realize there are complex issues relating to the deployment of armed guards on merchant vessels, and the commitment of naval vessels, but in the meantime there are immediate steps owners can take to protect their vessels and crews," Friedberg comments. "International shipping is fiddling while Rome burns."
Arndt Strandene, head of Goltens in Fujairah, explains the background. After the 318,000 dwt Vela-owned VLCC Sirius Star was hijacked in November 2008, the Saudi tanker company asked what preventive measures could be put in place quickly, and without ship delay.
"We came up with various precautions - typically a combination of spikes and razor wire - which involve three or four days of workshop preparation and around 15-20 hours installation time on board. The protection - our Anti Piracy System - involves no hotwork and can be easily dismantled by ship's crew when vessels clear dangerous waters."
"We know our system works," Stradene continues, "because a number of vessels, equipped with our protection, have been approached by pirates. But on seeing the sytem, pirate skiffs have fallen away to look for easier targets. Not a single vessel with Goltens' Anti Piracy System installed on board has been attacked," he says.
Costs vary, depending on ship size and type, but protection can usually be established for $20-30,000 per ship. System configuration is typically tailor-made for individual vessels and ranges from simple razor wire protection to a combination of razor wire and hoistable spikes.
More comprehensive protection measures are also available and have been requested by some owners. These include a Citadel "safe room" where ship's crew can retreat. Such spaces are fitted with satellite communications and emergency rations. Other protective measures include the blanking off of all port-holes and other openings in the accommodation block.
"Compare our protection with the cost of deploying armed guards," suggests Friedman. "The work can be carried out in hours with a minimum of disruption to a ship's trading pattern. We realise that there is a longer-term challenge in piracy prevention but, in the interim, and for a few thousand dollars, we can help owners to safeguard their assets and their seafarers, and we can probably help insurers to sleep a little better too."