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Three Important Pieces of Advice for Vessels Travelling Through Pirate Waters

Any vessels traversing through pirate waters must always be on the ready for threats of piracy. It’s essential that each ship follow recommended safety practices from agencies dedicated to fighting piracy. These practices are designed to avoid piracy in order to protect crewmembers and cargo from pirates.

All vessel owners, vessel operators, and maritime workers that must travel through or near high-risk areas need to be privy to anti-piracy practices by way of adequate instruction and practice. The Gulf of Aden is the dangerous strait through which cargo vessels must pilot their goods. Four percent of the world’s oil supply travels through here, along with tens of billions of dollars in cargo.

Follow the BMPs

The main piece of advice that will help vessels avoid a pirate attack is to implement the procedures in the Best Management Practices Against Somalia Based Piracy (BMPs).

The BMP explains, “Experience and data collected by Naval/Military forces, shows that the application of the recommendations contained within this booklet can and will make a significant difference in preventing a ship becoming a

victim of piracy.” And conversely, “The potential consequences of not following BMP, as set out in this booklet, are severe. There have been instances of pirates subjecting their hostages to violence and other ill treatment.”

BMPs cover numerous types of measures ships can employ, including:

  • pre-transit planning tasks (e.g., drills with the crew and scheduling of maintenance);
  • a host of recommendations for ship protection measures before transiting into high risk areas (including everything from how to use cameras and lighting to how to protect the bridge);
  • recommended actions should an attack occur; and
  • what to do should pirates gain control of the vessel.

Don’t Try to Skimp on Gas

Vessel owners and operators have been reported to be sidestepping one of the most important BMPs: increasing speed through pirate-infested waters, according to a 2012 CNBC report. The BMP recommends travelling at 18 knots or higher because the vessel will be better able to outrun an attempted attack. In fact, “Pirates have never managed to board a vessel travelling at 18 knots or more,” reports CNBC.

Unfortunately, in an effort to save money, some vessels keep their speeds low to avoid high gas costs. Shipping companies should keep in mind that preserving human life takes precedence over the financial bottom line.

Have a Plan Should You Face a Pirate Attack

Finally, even when a ship has followed the BMPs and taken necessary safety precautions, attacks and hijackings may still occur. Each vessel should have a plan in place should their ship sustain an attack.

Vessel operators need to remember that:

  • the contingency plan needs to be thorough;
  • the muster point should be pre-determined; and
  • all crew members should be sufficiently trained in these practices.

What is being done to fight against piracy?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) along with several international communities are developing and administering numerous types of anti-piracy initiatives in order to fight global piracy. This is a real problem with which mariners must contend.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reports that there were 439 pirate attacks in 2011 alone. To secure the global shipping industry and to protect the lives of innocent seamen, the IMO, national governments, international organizations, and the shipping industry are taking action against the worldwide piracy threat.

The IMO’s Anti-Piracy Project

The IMO began a comprehensive anti-piracy project in 1998. The organization explains that its “aim has been to foster the development of regional agreements on implementation of counter piracy measures.”

The project involved two stages:

  • Phase one – The IMO created and hosted regional seminars for government representatives from countries in pirate-infested areas.
  • Phase two – The IMO made a series of missions to assess and evaluate different regions.


Guidance and Recommendations from the IMO

The IMO stresses the importance of self-protection to avoid pirate attacks. Many of the strategies the IMO uses are geared toward helping officials and vessel workers learn proper anti-piracy measures, including:

  • convening meetings with officials in highly-pirated area in order to reach counter-piracy agreements (measures which have led to the creation of agreements such as the Djibouti Code of Conduct and the Memorandum of Understanding in West Africa);
  • circulating detailed reports on piracy;
  • promoting compliance with the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee’s (MSC) recommended preventive, evasive, and defensive tactics;
  • publishing and implementing the use of Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and in the Arabian Sea Area; and
  • creating other forms of guidance for preventing and suppressing piracyand circulating them to governments, ship owners, ship operators, and crewmembers.

Ways the International Community is Fighting Piracy

The international community has also began implementing measures to combat armed robbery at sea.

As noted by the CFR, these include:

  • creating resolutions that enable officials to take action against pirates (e.g., the United Nations Security Council resolution 851);
  • hosting international conferences to come up with new measures of battling piracy (e.g., UK’s international conference on the Future of Somalia);
  • putting naval patrols on the sea; and
  • hiring armed guards to protect ships.

Governing officials worldwide understand a multi-faceted approach is necessary in order to effectively fight piracy. IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu  explains, “[T]he [UK international] Conference agreed that piracy cannot be solved by military means alone and reiterated the importance of supporting local communities to tackle the underlying causes of piracy and improving effective use of Somali coastal waters through regional maritime capacity-building measures.”

White House’s U.S. Counter Piracy & Maritime Security Plan

On June 20 2014, the White House released the United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan, addressing the increased concerns over piracy and maritime security worldwide.

Always a leader in maritime security, the United States has organized and led the international effort against piracy since 2009, the result of which has been a dramatic decrease in piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The release of this plan comes on the heels of the IMB’s warning of a new piracy threat in the South China Sea.  Following a rash of tanker hijackings in the South China Sea, a warning has been issued to small tankers by the ICC Commercial Crime Services’ International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to maintain tight anti-piracy practices when in that region.

According to the report, the purpose of the Plan is to:

  • Affirm the national interest in global maritime security
  • Articulate U.S. Government policy for countering piracy and related maritime crimes
  • Provide guidance on objectives to enhance maritime security in regions of the world, based on emerging and changing threats
  • Supersede the 2008 Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan

The Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan will implement two primary components:

  • National Strategy for Maritime Security
  • Policy for the Repression of Piracy and other Criminal Acts of Violence at Sea

Implementation Strategy:

  • Review existing laws relating to piracy and maritime crime and prepare amendments where appropriate, to enhance the United States’ ability to prosecute those who commits these crimes and those who aid, abet, or facilitate the crimes.
  • Increase international cooperation that is consistent with the International Outreach and Coordination Strategy of the National Strategy for Maritime Security.
  • In addition, the U.S. will continue to strengthen rule of law and regional governance to maintain the safety of mariners, promote free flow of trade through legal economic activity, and preserve the freedom of the seas.

The Plan provides clear guidance for counter-piracy measures, and details that the U.S. will use all appropriate methods of national power to limit piracy and other maritime security crimes.  The Plan focuses on three core areas:

  • Prevention of Attacks
  • Response to Acts of Maritime Crime
  • Enhancing Maritime Security and Governance

The Plan also provides specific strategies for the Gulf of Guinea and Horn of Africa regions, strategies which establish specific methodology and provide guidance on how the U.S. will respond to threats connected to the individual geographic, legal, and political environments.

Piracy Statistics

  • A total of 264 piracy attacks were recorded worldwide in 2013. Of those incidents, only 15 were reported off Somalia, in contrast to the 75 incidents in 2012 and 237 in 2011, indicating that piracy in that area has significantly decreased.
  • The International Maritime Bureau’s global piracy report for 2013 lists the following statistics:
    • 300 people taken hostage; 21 injured
    • 12 vessels hijacked
    • 202 vessels boarded
    • 22 vessels fired upon
    • 28 attempted attacks reported
  • Pirate attacks on commercial vessels off the coast of West Africa rose by over 30% in 2013, with the first documented hijacking of a ship in Ivory Coast waters occurring late in 2012, followed by similar attacks.  In October, pirates kidnapped two United States civilians from an oil vessel off the Nigerian coast.  This was just one of the more than 30 incidents that occurred this year.
  • Roughly 30 percent of United States oil, and 40 percent of European crude supplies travel through the dangerous area near Western Africa.
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