Swift and evasive action by crew onboard two of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement-managed ships helped them avoid being hijacked by marauding pirates a matter of weeks ago.
One attack occurred 600 miles south west of India, where Somali pirates targeted the 45,744 dwt product tanker Ardmore Seafarer. Speaking exclusively to SMI, Capt Bill Lunn, Group Loss Prevention, Safety and Quality Director said: “The ship was quite far out but pirates can travel 1,000 miles outside the lanes. The pirates chased the ship and boarded it, by which time the Master already had non-essential crew in a secure room. The crew managed to black the ship out in a controlled manner and lock themselves into the citadel.”
He continued: “The pirates gave up a few hours later. Pirates are nervous of a blacked out ship where there isn’t even any emergency lighting. If you can imagine walking around a strange ship or engine room without knowing the layout or what may be awaiting you in the pitch black, that isn’t a pleasant experience. Of course, there’s always the knowledge and fear for the pirates that naval forces may be arriving at any minute and without any hostages the forces are able to act more decisively.”
Another attack occurred on a containership carrying cargo off the coast of Nigeria where pirates stole cash and personal effects belonging to the crew. In addition, another failed attack recently took place on one of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement’s crew-managed ships, in which two rocket propelled grenades were fired at the accommodation.
Capt Lunn said it was ‘very fortunate’ that no crew members were injured during the attacks and agreed that the piracy problem has grown in recent years, both in terms of the frequency and aggressiveness of attacks. “The problem has always been around; it rises and falls but it’s on a tremendous peak at this time, and geographically much more widespread. The amount of ammunition – guns, rockets and grenades – they’ve always had these but they’re much more prevalent nowadays.”
BSM Chief Executive Officer Andreas Droussiotis explained that tackling piracy can be a complex issue: “It all depends because there’s no fast line for what to do and what methods to use. There are many ways to tackle this problem but which one is most effective, or efficient, or safe for the people onboard is something that can be debated. Companies use different means,” he told SMI.
Capt Lunn cited ‘good planning and preparation’ as vital for preventing attacks from succeeding and emphasised the importance of drills and training for crews while ensuring ships are “properly hardened with defensive measures in place. Citadels, as a part of a layered defense system, seem very effective because if the pirates can’t get their hands on any crew and the ship is blacked out, then the pirates are just wandering round a dark ship and they leave – there’s not much else they can do, especially if the forces have been contacted.
Though Capt Lunn acknowledged that some seafarers may be discouraged by the prospect of piracy, he explained that with proper communication and training, crew can develop the confidence to deal with the problem and be fully prepared in the event of an attack.
“We have our own anti-piracy centre that keeps our vessels fully informed and we subscribe to intelligence agencies so we get all the latest intelligence and analysis. For vessels operating in high risk areas, whether it’s the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, South China Sea, Caribbean, parts of Africa and South America such as Nigeria, or Columbia, we do full risk assessments and ensure crews are prepared and ships are properly defended,” he concluded.