Recent ship hijackings serve as reminder of persistence of piracy threat

2010/11/02

The Beluga Fortune, a German cargo ship, was recently seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Kenya. Around the same time, the Singapore-flagged MV York suffered a similar fate in the same waters. These events stress the need for ship owners to be vigilant and have well-trained crews - and that being properly insured against possible pirate activity is as important as ever.
Beluga Fortune
dpa
Source: Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL), Bremen The freighter shown in the photo is the MS “Beluga Felicity”. Her almost identical sister ship, the “Beluga Fortune”, was attacked by pirates off the Somalian coast.

As it turned out, swift actions by the crew and a rescue operation staged by the German military in conjunction with the EU Naval Force's Operation Atalanta, an anti-piracy mission, ensured that the crew was freed. The MV York was not as lucky, and joins the growing list of vessels (19) and crew members (425) that are still being held hostage (over four months on average).

Behind the successful freeing of the MV Beluga Fortune was a concept that Munich Re has been promoting for years: the “citadel tactic”. Much akin to the a military fortress, the “citadel”, also known as a “panic room”, is a secure room within the ship where the crew can lock itself in the event of a pirate attack, while keeping an open radio/communications channel and GPS tracking capabilities, deactivating the ship’s navigation equipment and shutting off the ship’s fuel supply as well as other vital functions key to the vessel’s operation. These preventive measures - as well as regular, consistent training of a ship’s crew to remain calm in the face of adversity - can make all the difference in the outcome of a pirate attack.

Since crews have been implementing the “panic room” concept - and since an international task force has been patrolling the waters of Somalia - the amount of unsuccessful piracy attempt have risen. This should not, however construed as that the problem has gone away.

As Dieter Berg, head of marine underwriting at Munich Re says: “We have to see clearly, that the activity of pirates - especially in the Indian Ocean - is not decreasing at all. To the contrary, the threat is even rising due to the growing operating range, better weapons and equipment of the pirates. On the other hand it is very encouraging to observe that more and more ship-owners realize the significance of anti-piracy training of the crews and securing their vessels properly against pirate attacks. The last incidents have shown how successfully the installation of panic rooms works that allows the naval special forces to free vessels without endangering the seafarers.”

 

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