November 08, 2012

The butler did it

The decline in Somali piracy has seen a rash of worms crawling out of the woodwork. Some are busy finger-pointing, some are straining to take the credit and many others are trying to protect their little fiefdoms. Others are just adding to the clamour, hoping that their fifteen seconds of time in the spotlight will last forever.

Nobody seems to have acknowledged the inconvenient truth, amidst the cacophony, that another ship- the Orna- was released, like the Asphalt Venture, after payment of ransom from Haradheere in Somalia, but the Captain, Chief Engineer and four others out of its mostly Indian crew were not. Asphalt Venture redux.

Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) tells us what we already know, that the number of attacks off Somalia have declined sharply. Others, too, tell us what we already know, that armed guards are by far the biggest reason why Somali attacks have declined. Finally, they tell us the obvious.

The US State Department official in charge of counter-piracy policy, Thomas Kelly, now says of armed guards, "There was a lot of reticence in a lot of places about using these crews but people learned through experience that this was a critically important factor in reducing the number of instances. It’s hard enough to climb up the side of a ship with a Kalashnikov on your back but it's harder when you have some someone shooting down at you."

"Pirates break off attack and look for softer targets," he said. "We estimate 80 per cent of ships are using private security. We'd like it to be 100 per cent."

But that reality (or mini-confession) does not stop others from claiming a largely unfair share of the credit. The Europeans would have us believe that EUNAVFOR did it- the ‘it’, being, of course, containing Somali piracy. The UN still insists, although less convincingly, that the BMPs did it. The US and other State actors sometimes claim that the attacks on pirate bases on shore did it, or that Kenyan military actions in Southern Somalia did it, forget the fact that pirates were not operating from Southern Somalia at all in recent times. Some say, sporadically, that the trials of pirates -about 1,000 pirates have been imprisoned in 20 nations so far- did it. And some commentators are still saying, even after the rough weather season is over, that the monsoons did it.

Other talking heads are saying that this is a lull before the storm and that pirates are clearing their inventory of hijacked ships (officially still 11 vessels and at least 188 crew) and waiting for the industry to let its guard down before they commence attacks anew.
Meanwhile, from the finger-pointing and ‘butler did it’ department, private maritime security companies (PMSCs) and NATO are busy blaming each other, the former saying that NATO does not share intelligence with them and the latter alleging that PMSCs are withholding reports of pirate attacks on ships that they protect.

Slightly confusing, that allegation, for it means that owners carrying armed guards are not reporting attacks either. Perhaps they share many a Master’s sentiment (including mine), that the less one reports, the less paperwork there is and the fewer number of pen pushers breathe down one’s neck. Or perhaps shipowners are chary of bad publicity or issues with charterers and Flag States. Or perhaps Masters feel that there is no point in reporting stuff to people who are incapable or unwilling to do anything except compile statistics to be spewed out by after dinner speakers at conference halls ashore.

Also meanwhile, in the adding-to-cacophony department this time, India asks the IMO - before the Orna release, so these numbers have now changed for the worse- to ‘intervene’ and have released 43 Indian sailors held hostage in Somalia. Shipping Minister Vasan is reported to have told IMO Secretary General Sekimizu this in a meeting last month.

Might as well ask the butler to do that one too.


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