The IMO in session
The International Maritime Organization is responsible for safety and pollution issues relating to the merchant fleets that ply the world’s seas. It has become increasingly involved in efforts to deal with growing threats of piracy that in some waters particularly apply to vessels carrying much needed humanitarian aid to poorer countries.
The IMO Council, meeting for its 98th session in London, has agreed further action to address the continuing incidence of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing in waters off the coast of Somalia and, in particular, ships carrying humanitarian aid to the country.
More goods are transported by sea than by any other method. Small trading vessels are easy to attack, but even large container and bulk cargo vessels are vulnerable as automation reduces crew sizes and cargo values increase.
The full scale of the risk of piracy is unknown because the loss of some vessels without trace may be a result of piracy, or some other maritime disaster. The problem is much larger and more widespread than many realize.
Easy access to modern weapons and fast boats has helped to make piracy a popular profession in African waters.
The East Coast of Africa has become one of the piracy ‘hot spots’. UN aid is a major target, but cruise liners have had to fight off pirates who not only operate close to shore in small craft, but also operate further out with a mother ship carrying smaller raiding craft.
Long coastlines and heavy merchant shipping activity, infrequent naval patrols and infrequent air patrols combine to make the Seas of East Asian an ideal place for piracy.
In the Seas of East Asia, piracy has become a significant problem. Many of the smaller vessels that are attacked are not recorded as victims of piracy. Yachts sailing in these waters are often attacked and there have been cases where the yacht is missing, only to be identified years later when it has been sold several times and sailed under different names.
Luxury motor yachts make attractive targets. Some are stolen to provide new vessels for the illegal drug trade.
Although piracy is most visible in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific it has long been a problem in the Caribbean and along the coasts of South America where the targets are most frequently yachts rather than merchant vessels, some yachts being taken specifically to be used by drug runners.
The wealth presented by yachting marinas and harbours around Europe has led to increasing levels of marine crime. Generally non-violent theft, it is still a form of piracy.
Less common but still a problem are attacks in Northern European waters and in the Mediterranean. If piracy is regarded as any form of maritime theft and/or violence, the high rate of crime in some marinas and coastal waters make Europe a major piracy zone.
The Royal Navy, once active in providing anti-piracy patrols in the world’s shipping lanes, has been a sad loss for maritime security, as a lack of fuel, spares and ships has removed the White Ensign from many of the most vulnerable waters during the last decade.
As the problem has increased, calls for action have also increased. The solution will be for navies and maritime police to co-operate and co-ordinate more effectively, increasing patrols in the most affected areas. Warships on patrol are a deterrent and a method of dealing with incidents, but they have to be backed by improved intelligence gathering and effective judicial action when pirates are arrested and tried.