Today’s headline news in U.S. media outlets as well as the rest of the world relate to the unfolding story outlining the latest ship hijacking incident off the coast of Somalia. The container ship Maersk Alabama, and its crew of 20 Americans were attacked off Somalia, while transporting emergency relief supplies to Mombassa Kenya. What truly makes this story of concern is that it represents the fifteenth ship hijacking thus far this year, and the sixth incident in this week alone. It further indicates that these pirates have changed tactics. Previous incidents were mainly focused in the Gulf of Aden, a major route to transverse to the Suez Canal, where 30 warships of various nations now attempt to patrol. This time however, the pirates have moved further south to the Indian Ocean, away from these warships. Of further concern is that container ships were considered to be less likely targets for small boat pirate attack because of their higher speeds and deck heights.
While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for world action to “end the scourge of piracy”, the reality is that the nearest warship is 300 miles away, and it will take hours to reach the Alabama Praise surely goes with the crew of this vessel since they collectively took bold action to regain control of the vessal from the pirates, but unfortunately the Captain of the vessel remains as a hostage. A related story in The Guardian UK indicates that military action is unlikely, because of the numerous risks involved.
The question that immediately comes to my mind is why haven’t maritime authorities and ship owners awakened to a concerted effort to thwart these threats to world commerce. It did not take me long to find blog commentary that seemed to truly grasp both the overall causes and potential tactics, which I recommend my readers of Supply Chain Matters visit.
This posting on EagleSpeak (How to Beat the Somali Pirates) provides an excellent overview of why today’s shipping lanes in this region are very predictable for the pirates to figure out. The author notes: “the practical reality is that merchant ships are driven by the cruel masters of time and money”, and wondering all over the ocean to avoid risk is not conducive to bottom line efficiency. There are also some excellent suggestions for deployment of military escorts, and even returning to the World War Two concept of escorted convoys in the high-risk shipping lanes.
Ship piracy is a topic that has raised itself to global visibility, and needs concerted action on the part of global carriers and governmental bodies.
You have three options for combatting Pirates:
1) Use escorts – Expensive and not 100% a problem solver given how busy the shipping lanes are, etc.
2) Put security on board (arm the ships) – Which makes the ship a combatant (what’s the ROE anyway?) Also, these thugs are carrying heavier and progressively more lethal weaponry.
3) Continue to pay the ransom…