The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), a global trade association for shipowners, has issued a paper drawing upon the international shipping industry’s experience of Somali-based piracy during the period 2007 to 2013.
“The intention is to identify lessons learned in order to shape future policy responses, wherever in the world they might be needed,” explained ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe.
The ICS paper has been submitted to the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (which was established in response to a United Nations Security Council Resolution) and by all accounts the ICS paper has been well received by governments.
ICS has produced its paper following a dramatic reduction in the number of successful attacks against ships by Somali pirates, currently at a five-year low thanks to the combined success of sustained compliance with industry Best Management Practices (BMP), the use of private maritime security companies, the activity of military assets and new capacity building initiatives ashore.
Despite this, it remains the case that the pirates are active and retain the capacity to attack far into the Indian Ocean. ICS therefore continues to emphasize that it is premature to conclude that the crisis is over, with seafarers still held hostage in Somalia, some of whom have now been in captivity for three years.
In 2013, there were at least 13 reported incidents involving Somali pirates including two hijackings. ICS stresses that adherence to the industry’s latest Best Management Practices (BMP 4) and, where necessary, the deployment of private armed guards, continue to be vital self-protective measures. The maintenance of current levels of military protection provided by a global coalition of governments in the Indian Ocean is also considered to be vital.
The ICS paper explains the significant challenges the shipping industry has faced in responding to the crisis in the Indian Ocean, which escalated dramatically in 2007.
This included getting the initial attention of governments and making them appreciate the scale of the crisis that was making a vast and strategically vital area of the Indian Ocean, including major trade lanes, a virtual ‘no go’ area to merchant shipping.
It also involved raising awareness in the mainstream news media, and then seeking to maintain this throughout the course of the crisis.
The ICS paper also highlights the importance of clarifying the rights and obligations of sovereign nations to address piracy (which were complicated by the breakdown of Somalia as a functioning State) and of the need to engage with military authorities and to persuade them that the prevention of piracy/hostage taking has a most important strategic and humanitarian function that should not be dismissed as mere ‘low level’ law enforcement.
“It was particularly important to foster an understanding that protection against pirate attacks was a shared responsibility in which both the military and the industry have to play their parts,” said Peter Hinchliffe.
The ICS paper also explores the challenges of:
- Developing and disseminating appropriate and acceptable Best Management Practice (BMP) recommendations on preventative measures to be taken by shipping companies, ships and crews;
- Maintaining constant pressure on shipping companies and ships to sustain BMP compliance at the highest possible level;
- Responding to the legal and practical challenges associated with the capture and prosecution of piracy suspects;
- Responding to the legal and practical challenges created by the employment of private armed guards;
- Responding to the humanitarian challenge of thousands of seafarers left traumatized by the experience of being held hostage for several months (years in some cases) prior to release;
- Addressing the legal and moral dilemma created by the necessity for shipping companies and their insurers to make ransom payments;
- Addressing the challenges of promoting capacity building ashore and the reconstruction of civil society; and
- Seeking to address the crisis in an appropriate but proportionate manner that recognized it was likely to continue for several years while avoiding a situation in which the threat presented by pirates was regarded as ‘normal’ or that some of the necessarily extreme measures adopted, such as the use of armed guards, did not become institutionalized.
ICS hopes that all stakeholders in counter-piracy operations — whether political, military, shipping and security industries or media —will bear in mind the lessons identified in dealing with the issue of piracy in the Indian Ocean. ICS believes the core lesson of responding to criminality robustly and without delay will be more easily delivered in the future if these basic lessons are kept readily to hand.