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Anti-Piracy Procedures and the Ship Security Plan

Recently, a group of U.S. Marines were able to board and regain control of a German-owned ship, which had been taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia. They were able to do so without firing a single shot. According to a CNN report, a military spokesman claimed the members of the ship’s crew had locked themselves in a safe room, so the military felt it was a good time to board the ship.    

Many flag states and recognized security organizations world-wide require anti-piracy procedures to be contained in ship security plans required under the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code. While this recent intervention was a great success, it complicates things for those responsible for coming up with anti-piracy procedures and ensuring their implementation through drills and training.  Is this the new “best practice?”

Unfortunately, there is no one solution to this complex problem. Opinions on what constitutes best practices to defend against attacks, and what to do once pirates are on board, vary greatly.  Some advocate dispersing the crew and disabling the ship. Conversely, one flag state indicates that the crew should stay together in a predetermined safe haven provided with supplies comparable to those in a lifeboat. Another international government organization suggests that mariners should offer no resistance and, if in a lock-down situation, should not resist entry. So what is the answer? 

Perhaps the answer is that they are all correct and best procedures depend upon the type of boarder the crew is engaging.  Currently, the best indicators of the type of boarders are: past history, the geographic location, and the type of ship being attacked. For example, a ship could be attacked by pirates in Southeast Asia who intend on killing the entire crew and stealing the ship.  A ship could be boarded near the Horn of Africa by hijacker-extortionists who may not intend to kill anyone, but will if provoked.  A ship could be boarded by West African pirates who intend to kidnap the crew for ransom. And, of course, any ship could be boarded anywhere by terrorists who intend to use the ship as, or to transport, a weapon of mass destruction. 

It is important for security plans to account for these differences.  For example, you might find petty thieves on board who can be easily deterred and will jump over the side when detected.  Surely, the crew would not lock down in a safe haven while some hungry, unarmed teenage boys raided the galley. Of course, that probably would not happen, but the point is that an approved security plan may call for such actions if it is not scenario specific, or if it does not provide enough leeway for the master and crew. Accordingly, locking the entire crew in a safe room when no one is coming to the rescue, may not end well either.

The ship security plan must be useful to the crew.  It should be specific enough to give guidance regarding what the owner/operator and approving authority have determined to be appropriate, without hindering the master who will inevitably arrive on board the ship with his own ideas of what is appropriate and what is not.

 

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