Shipping companies cannot afford to relax their guard in SE Asia

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IN Situ portrait of Captain Northwood RNFollowing a spate of six attacks in the Singapore Straight over the weekend, leading maritime security provider MAST is calling for shipping companies to strengthen their approach to maritime security in South East Asia.

Gerry Northwood (pictured), COO of MAST, said: “Shipping companies need to look at Best Management Practices (BMP) 4 applied in the Indian Ocean and now adapt it to counter the threat posed by local criminals in SE Asia.”

BMP4 has been effective in providing a framework for passive security measures, such as watch-keeping and enhanced vigilance, and hardening vessels transiting through the Indian Ocean so that even an unarmed merchant ship, while by no means impregnable to an attack by pirates, is now much harder to capture.

Mr Northwood said: “Commercial shipping is highly vulnerable to acts of piracy in the waters of SE Asia and the fact that piracy is still prevalent, as borne out by the events off Singapore this last weekend, means that shipping companies, Masters and crews cannot afford to relax their guard.”

After the attacks, local authorities announced that Malaysia and Indonesia would deploy rapid response teams to fight soaring piracy.

Mr Northwood said: “The rapid response teams are welcomed but the onus is still on the ships and crews to take necessary precautions and ensure security measures remain effective while in transit, at anchor, in port and during cargo operations.”

“There is no replacement for a good lookout, along with the appropriate BMP for the area. Incidents like the one over the weekend are entirely avoidable with the right training and forethought.

“Our advice is that shipping companies adapt the highly successful BMP measures adopted by the industry for the Indian Ocean high risk area to the prevailing situation off SE Asia. With the right measures in place, the incidence of piracy and trauma to crews will be radically reduced.”

He added: “Threats to shipping are global and driven by a combination of poverty and geography. The industry faced a similar situation off Somalia where local fishermen and smugglers, who were at home in the maritime environment, were able to turn pirate and operate from locations that were beyond the reach of international and national law. Right now the focus maybe on SE Asia, but we must not forget that there are 26 seafarers still held hostage in Somalia”

“Ultimately, it is the merchant mariners who are hardest hit and the shipping industry can be doing more to protect them.”