SAMI warns of piracy increase in South East Asia

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Neptune Maritime Security operative fixed razor wire to sides ofWith the worrying rise in piracy attacks across the South East Asian region, the global focal point for maritime security matters, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) has urged all Company Security Officers (CSOs), Masters and Ship Security Officers (SSOs) to exercise caution when their vessels transit or operate in the area.

According to reports, this current Asian piracy spike is based on a very specific security problem, as pirates and criminals have been hijacking vessels to steal oil cargoes. This has led to a rising trend of tankers being hijacked, and it must be assumed that all such cargoes are at risk in the area.

It is being stressed the threat does not necessarily end there. While the on-going threat to tankers in the Malacca Straits, surrounding waters and anchorages is set to continue the problem could be set to spread. The message from SAMI is that other vessel types could soon become targets too, and so it is imperative steps are taken to ensure that necessary security measures are in place.

While the current focus is mainly on product tankers, there are concerns that pirates may pose a wider risk to shipping. SAMI warns that very often a specific type of piracy actually evolves into a more random “smash and grab” form. Criminal elements with a marine capability are considered to be willing and able to hit alternative targets, seeking to gain whatever they can from any passing shipping.

Most of the current incidents have taken place within territorial waters, and as such there is an expectation that local law enforcement and military intervention will eventually ease the current security problems. Indeed, it is to be hoped that affected countries are able to work together to counter this rising problem, as they have done before.

In the meantime shipping must act to protect itself, and it is considered vital that action is taken from intelligence, management and operational perspectives. One key concern to emerge is the accusation that criminals are being granted access to sensitive information on cargoes and vessel movements. As such owners, masters and agents need to do everything possible to control and restrict the flow of such intelligence and data.

Parallel to this is a need to ensure that practical measures are taken to protect seafarers, cargoes and vessels. From the management ashore, through to the team onboard there needs to be an awareness of the local piracy problems, as well as an ability and willingness to take the necessary actions to safeguard and protect their vessels.

According to Peter Cook, CEO of SAMI: “It is now time to revisit Ship Security Plans (SSPs) to ensure that they are relevant and capable of implementing the defensive measures necessary to protect vessels from this form of piracy”.

While many vessels which trade internationally may have the necessary equipment and the crews have the knowledge and skills to enact measures akin to those of the industry Best Management Practices (BMP), there are many vessels in the region which only trade in this geographic area.  This could be a problem, but one which needs to be addressed.

For these vessels, it may be more difficult to ramp-up the security measures and response – but it is vital they do so and SAMI urges Company Security Officers (CSOs), Masters and Ship Security Officers (SSOs) to fully assess their vulnerabilities and the way in which security is enhanced.

The Association also stresses the importance of external professional capabilities, noting that private maritime security companies are able to provide the expert insight necessary to mitigate risk and protect vessels effectively. SAMI is currently beta testing its new membership directory, and this will further assist the shipping industry to identify the companies, skills and experience it needs to assist and support maritime security efforts.