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Risks of Working Offshore in International Waters

Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, international waters pose a unique risk to offshore workers. Before you decide to take a position on a foreign vessel, you may want to consider the following. Piracy is one of the greatest dangers to U.S. workers in international waters. According to the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre, there were a number of piracy incidents in 2012.

Worldwide Incidents Incidents Reported for Somalia
Total attacks 278 Total 71
Total hijackings 27 Total hijackings 13
Total Hostages 212
Current Vessels held by Somali Pirates
Vessels 9 Updated Dec. 3, 2012
Hostages 147

The following areas are particularly prone to piracy attacks:

Bangladesh Lagos (Nigeria)
Indonesia Gulf of Aden / Red Sea
Malacca Straits Abidjan (Ivory Coast)
Singapore Straits Lome (Togo)
South China Sea Cotonou (Benin)

Despite efforts to eradicate piracy, it remains a serious issue for overseas workers. If you are assigned to a region that is known for piracy, you should check out our page of piracy resources.

International Protections and Laws against Piracy

Because most instances of piracy happen in uncontrolled, international waters, the United Nations is the most relevant organization to attempt to provide governance. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), established in 1982, is one of the laws that may factor in an emotional distress lawsuit case of piracy damages.

This law makes maritime piracy a criminal act of violence, detention or devastation when it takes place against the crew or passengers of a ship. While ships are typically the target of piracy, it’s also possible for offshore platforms such as oil rigs to be attacked.

The complications in these cases arise when determining which laws protect seamen when they file an offshore injury claim in international waters. The Jones Act may apply in some cases, and it’s best to consult with maritime lawyers who have experience with these sorts of claims.

Piracy causes many types of damages to vessels and their crews, including the potential for loss of cargo, equipment and even human life. Crew members who sustain injury may be able to file a maritime injury claim with their employers. There are also cases in which these traumatic experiences cause mental anguish and psychological disorders long after the incident, which can be claimed as an offshore injury in some cases.

The Damaging Effect of Piracy on Our Economy

Piracy is a heinous crime that threatens maritime workers, the global shipping industry, and the world economy. According to The World Bank, Somali piracy could weigh the global economy down by as much as $18 billion annually. For perspective, the United States allots about $27 billion to fund the U.S. Department of Justice. Piracy costs well over half of that. A crime that costs the world $18 billion is simply outrageous.

Understanding the Cost of Piracy

How exactly does piracy wind up costing the world a resounding $18 billion dollars a year? Part of the cost is attributed to the numerous measures taken to prevent piracy and part is for ransoms and rescues.

The Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) organization estimated the global cost at $6 billion, but the World Bank report noted that it leaves out some of the cost factors like substation from sea to air.

In any event, the OBP report broke down the costs of Somali piracy:

  • security equipment and armed guards – 29 percent;
  • cost of gas for increased speeds (to prevent attacks) – 27 percent;
  • military operations – 19 percent;
  • insurance – 10 percent;
  • labor (hazard pay, compensation while held hostage) – 8 percent;
  • re-routing (to avoid pirate infested waters) – 5 percent;
  • ransoms and recoveries – 1 percent;
  • anti-piracy organizations – <1 percent; and
  • prosecutions and imprisonment – <1 percent.

Warding off a Pirate Attack

Shipping owners and operators who must travel through or near high-risk areas must take preemptive measures to avoid attack. They will need to follow the Best Management Practices as closely as possible, make sure all their crew members are fully prepared, and stay on the ready at all times near pirate-laden waters.

Some of the best things they can do to prevent an attack include:

  • re-routing away from high risk areas;
  • increasing speed to over 18 knots;
  • prepping the ship with anti-pirate features to avoid being boarded;
  • following reporting mandates; and
  • staying updated on current piracy spottings, warnings, and hijackings.

The Effects Aren’t Just Financial

Piracy hurts trade, it hurts tourism, and it hurts coastal commerce.  But while the effects of piracy do indisputably damage our economy, the effects aren’t just financial. It hurts people like the maritime workers who are providing for their families back home. They suffer pain and injuries, lose their livelihood, and sustain severe damages because of piracy. Some even lose their lives.

In the United States Institute of Peace’s Counting the Cost of Somali Piracy paper, Ray Gilpin explains, “The human costs are noteworthy. Piracy has resulted in loss of life, trauma inflicted on hostages and their families.”

Furthermore, piracy creates heartache and hunger for innocent foreign families. “Targeting relief shipments worsens food insecurity in Somalia where an estimated 3.2 million people (over one third of the population) rely on food aid and humanitarian supplies,” Gilpin expounds.


Private Maritime Security Companies on the Rise

As long as there have been ships, there have been pirates, and just as maritime piracy practices have evolved over the years, so have the means of combating them. This roughly explains the recent phenomenon of an explosion in the number of private maritime security companies that have formed in the last few years.

According to an article published in Huffington Post, the number of companies offering armed protection has risen dramatically since 2008, and there is no surprise as to why. Media coverage of piracy attacks has increased, and there is plenty of money to be made in security.

It is estimated that commercial ships will pay as much as $5,000 per day for a 4-man team of armed guards. This can add up to an average of $60,000 for a typical 40-day rotation.

However, there has been some controversy surrounding private maritime security companies, and the vessels that hire guards who employ brutal tactics can be unwillingly dragged into the spotlight for protecting themselves. Worse yet, the tactics of some of the security teams can endanger crew members in rare instances, leaving a huge liability opening for seamen and their employers.

Maritime Security Dialogue

In January, Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, addressed maritime challenges and transnational threats as part of the Maritime Security Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Maritime Security Dialogue brings attention to specific challenges facing the Marine Corps, Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, from naval concept development and design to national-level maritime policy.

Adm. Zukunft assumed command in June of last year as the 25th commandant.  He spoke this month of the Coast Guard’s evolving place in the 21st century, as well as strategic goals for his term.

One such goal is the Coast Guard’s commitment and responsibility to the Western Hemisphere.  The United States is faced with significant threats on the southern borders and transit zones, mostly due to the quickly growing transnational criminal organizations fueling instability and violence throughout the region.

Released in September, 2014, the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy addresses such challenges in the Western Hemisphere, outlining a long-term plan for operational success.  The three priorities of the strategy are securing borders, combating networks and safeguarding commerce.

Adm. Zukunft focused on the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell’s success as a part of the strategy.  The crew of that San Diego-based cutter interdicted over half a billion dollars of contraband from 13 interdictions during a patrol off South and Central America.  Zukunft stressed that the Strategy will help ensure that the Coast Guard can continue to be the leader in maritime security.

The question and answer session was led by retired Navy Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute.

The Maritime Security Dialogue brings together CSIS and USNI to afford a forum through public events and multimedia interviews with a variety of military leaders, thought leaders on maritime issues and government officials.

U.S. Marine Corps Considers Piracy Crisis-Response Mission

For many years, armed pirates have been wreaking havoc on the waters off Africa’s west coast, out-doing Somali pirates as the largest maritime bandits worldwide. However, the United States Marine Corps is considering increasing its presence in the area to help ward off such threats as part of a crisis-response mission.

While this is still under discussion, a presentation by Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon suggested that this force would potentially use a Navy ship (currently floating around the Gulf of Guinea) as its home base. From there, Marines could perform missions as far inland as Kenya and Tanzania to the east, and Algeria to the north.

Currently withdrawing thousands of troops from Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is reassigning forces to other missions around the world. The minimal number of Naval ships available for these missions obliges the Marines to be creative and use the available vessels in unconventional ways. In short, this could become a model for how the Corps will operate for years into the future.

Piracy in the region has become an increasing problem, with dozens of acts occurring in the Gulf of Guinea every year. In October, for instance, pirates kidnapped two United States civilians from an oil vessel off the Nigerian coast. This was just one of more than 30 incidents that occurred this year, as compared to 11 incidents off the Somalian coast. Such attacks are generally violent and occur in both the ocean and the nearby rivers. Roughly 30 percent of United States oil, and 40 percent of European crude supplies travel through the dangerous area near western Africa.

The proposed force by the Marine Corps would be under the command of a crisis-response unit established earlier this year in Spain, with its goal to respond to emergencies that occur in northern Africa. The force currently utilizes approximately 550 marines and six MV-22B Ospreys and is under the command of a Marine colonel.

The proposed use of forces is not reserved solely for counter-piracy, however. These marines would carry out missions that range from humanitarian aid to embassy reinforcement, with counter-piracy missions being a strong possibility. Additionally, the forces could possibly play a role in protecting interests on Africa’s mainland, where militant group, Boko Haram, clashes with Christians and the nation’s government.

According to Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesperson, “If the pirates in the region know that there is a ship there, it would serve as a deterrent.”

There is no guarantee that one of the Navy’s landing platform dock vessels will be available for use in the proposed mission; however, it is certainly possible. The Marine Corps would then base both Ospreys and infantry Marines aboard the vessel.

Practices that have improved conditions and lessened piracy off the coast of Somalia may not transfer that easily to western Africa, according to a source with United States Africa Command. The attacks in the Gulf of Guinea often happen close to the shore, which makes it more difficult for Naval vessels to quickly respond. In fact, the United States does not currently have any lasting counter-piracy presence for the area in the Gulf.

Said Maj. Fred Harrell, a spokesperson for Africa Command, “Comprehensive, inter-agency and multi-national approaches and collaboration with industry are key for African maritime security, especially in west Africa.”

The Marine Corps is in the process of organizing similar crisis missions in the Caribbean and the Middle East. In the Middle East, the force would most likely be based in Bahrain, where the United States Central Command and the United States Navy have headquarters. The plan, however, is in the early stages, and is probably a year or more from actual deployment.

A research associate at the Center for American Progress, Max Hoffman, is unsure that such force deployment is necessary at this point, as the majority of the attacks happen so close to shore. According to Hoffman, “It would be a pretty big tool for a fairly small nail. The question becomes could the resources of a Marine deployment in the region be better utilized building local capabilities to combat these problems.”

Hoffman also questioned what would happen if the Marine Corps engaged with the pirates around Africa. He argued that it raises questions about rules of engagement. “What happens if a vessel is seized and they go to the territorial waters off Nigeria?” he asked. “Do the Marines follow?”

Maritime Lawyers can help with an Emotional Distress Lawsuit under the Jones Act

The Jones Act Law provides you with certain protections your employer may not want you to know about. Maritime lawyers from The Young Firm in New Orleans, Louisiana can help you if you are seeking to file an emotional distress lawsuit after becoming the victim of piracy, kidnapping, or other traumatic situations while working on an overseas oil rig, vessel, or platform.

Though we are based in Louisiana, we are ready and able to help injured victims throughout the U.S. Order our free Maritime Injury Law guide and/or our guide to what to do when you are injured offshore to learn all about your rights as an injured worker.

When you are ready to get started with your Jones Act injury case, we urge you to contact us today for a FREE case evaluation – call toll-free at 1-866-701-8647.

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