Gulf of Guinea piracy is rapidly growing and actually, for already quite a time is more dangerous for shipping, than Somali piracy. But it’s not all the truth, the truth is, the whole ring of coastal African countries turned into a hot-red risky zone, be it Nigeria or Kenya, Somali or Togo. Somali now is the least headache for many shipowners, just because they know the Somali piracy cure, which is private armed guards, and they can get it without much trouble. But there is no cure for the risks vessels and crews have to face, when they call “peaceful” African countries, considered to be more or less civilized and governed. Media and public recognize Gulf of Guinea as dangerous and pirates-infested area, but they overlook, for one, Kenya, with Mombasa road no less dangerous, than roads of Lagos or Cotonou. Media and public believe (with the help of International Maritime Bureau IMB), that the main risks involved are robbery and hijack of some members of the crews, and overlook many other risks, such as extortion by the authorities in form of the so-called “fines” from crews and owners under most improbable pretexts, with no chance of legal defence. Or petty theft, or extortion of private belongings of any value from the crews by police, or customs, or navy officials, just by declaring items which draw their attention “illegal” or “prohibited”. Or detaining the vessels with crews and cargoes under absurd accusations, and extorting from owners huge “fines”, such incidents being in fact, poorly disguised acts of piracy, committed by authorities, and often inspired by local “businessmen”, tightly connected with local authorities. Or ports themselves, nearly as risky for seafarers walking ashore, as Omaha beach in a D-Day.
Why don’t IMB and its’ masters present to public a real picture of what is going on in most part of African ports, why don’t they for example, describe in detail the preparations crews make before entering African waters? When crews wield as many doors as possible, hide all items of any value, both vessel’s and private belongings, from bronze details to notebooks, and generally, brave themselves for something resembling a Doom’s Day? Why no industry media – ever – gives a story describing say, one night on a Mombasa road, with all the vessels being adrift, not anchored, and hoarding in a flock like sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves?
Up to 60% of vessels attacked in African waters don’t report the attacks to the IMB, firstly because it’s meaningless and shipping don’t recognize IMB work as something useful, and secondly, because report attack or not, in say, Gulf of Guinea there is no chance of getting any help anyway.
Safety of vessels and crews in African waters is a complex problem, which must not be shredded into this or that local risks, or area. Most dangerous waters of Africa as of present, Gulf of Guinea, may soon challenge shipping with ransom hijacks – not as complicated as Somalian piracy, but because of it, all the more dangerous. Industry media and chiefs came up with sensational news – GoG pirates started to use motherships. They’ve been sleeping and suddenly woke up? How the hell else could GoG pirates attack vessels, take them away to high seas, and steal their cargoes? Pirates motherships in GoG are simply logical, as logical as the pirates next move – hijacking vessels for ransoms. Technically it’s not all that complicated. Yes, pirates can’t take ocean-going vessels to some bays or inlets along the coast to keep vessels as long as it takes to get a ransom. But they can do it in another way, they can demand comparatively small ransoms to be paid in days, not weeks or months, and if rejected, they may kill the crews and if they manage it, sink the vessels. We’ve had more than enough proofs of absolute ruthlessness and brutality of West African pirates, for whom human life has no value at all.
Unlike Somalian piracy, all-African piracy has no visible ways of dealing with, no general solution. All the African states known for violence and piracy both at sea and in ports, can’t enforce order and safety even in their waters, leave alone all-invading corruption, racism crimes and authorities immunity to any legal claims. Being unable and unwilling to enforce security for shipping and seafarers, many African countries vehemently reject any plans of either international forces patrolling their waters, or the presence of armed private guards on board of the vessels calling their ports. Such countries, as Ghana, Namibia, Togo, Cote D’ivoire or Senegal don’t permit armed guards, while Nigeria permits them. There is the big difference between Somali and other African countries. Vessels transit dangerous waters without calling Somali ports or entering Somali waters. Vessels engaged in African trade have to call ports of different African countries, so if there’s more than one country to call, there’s the impossibility of keeping armed guards on board throughout all voyage.
How to secure the shipping in Africa, and provide safety for the crews? There is no evident and quick solution, similar to Somali piracy international response. What is worse, that Somali piracy solution wasn’t actually, a solution. Shipping secured itself from Somali pirates independently from what officials of industry, nations and UN did and still do. Remembering all those countless conferences and Round Tables discussing Somali piracy problem, all those reports, studies, experts and analytics – did they produce anything useful? Their effectiveness was an absolute zero, not just small or insufficient – it was just that, zero.
It may be assumed then, that rapidly growing number of conferences and seminars devoted to GoG piracy will be even more futile, than Somali ones. Because in fact, shipping needs some radical change of security problem approach. Are the shipping leaders ready for something so dramatic? Answer is – no. Somali piracy revealed the tremendous gap between general bulk of shipping body and the authorities, and actually, the industry exists in two realities – one is on high seas, another one is in the offices of politicians, be they national, or UN, or IMO or BIMCO.
It’s high time to assess the piracy risks not only in Africa, but anywhere in the World Ocean, because criminals of all flags and races already found out the evident - merchant vessels are absolutely defenceless and vulnerable to attacks, hijacks and robbery. Floating warehouses full of goods worth millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions dollars move around without any protection at all, except the height of freeboard and the speed. The hot spot of today is Africa. Tomorrow it may be South America, or South-East Asia, or any region where economy crisis or other mishaps will ruin fragile ways of more or less law-abiding life, and force destitute population to throw away laws and hoist Jolly Rodger. Vessels must be provided with the ability of self-defence. There are no known non-lethal arms or systems capable of thwarting off any attack under any circumstances, the existing devices are too complicated, too expensive and too narrowed in use, they may say, defend from pirates attacking vessel on high seas, but come useless in anchorage areas.
It’s time to think about the legalization of the light firearms on board of the merchant vessels, with all the seaside countries accepting the new rules and changing their national laws. There is no risk in that, if do it properly. Say, all the arms are to be kept in a specially constructed, built and installed safe room or box, to be opened not just on master’s whim, but after receiving enter code from owner, or mandated organization of the respective flag. If many vessels nowdays have security officers, why can’t they have persons, trained and licensed to use the arms? The other way of using arms is restricting the use of arms to licensed hired guards only. Speaking generally, let the arms be, and make them as acceptable as lifeboats – for all we know, no one drops a lifeboat just for the fun of it.
Talking about Africa, seemingly, there is no other way to provide safety for vessels and crews, except providing protection personally for each vessel. What are other options? Say, IMO and Round Table, after a long row of conferences, meetings and symposiums, will concoct a petition or plea to UN and interested nations, then what? UN Security Council will come up with a resolution demanding African countries to react, enforce, provide and ensure. African countries won’t even notice the resolution, let alone abide to it. There is another option, to ensure safety by patrolling dangerous waters by multinational navy forces. How long will it take, what to do about inner waters, for how long will the navies have to stay in African waters, how to deal with the hostile attitude of a number of African countries, who’ll yell it a bloody imperialism and a threat to their hard-won independence?
A new approach to vessels safety resulting in radically new solution or solutions is not easy and quick move, but there is no alternative. Either everything will go on as it goes, or the officialdom will be forced into accepting the reality and the need of change. Somali piracy was comparatively easy problem to deal with, but officialdom failed its obligations and responsibilities, resisting in all ways it could the only one absolutely effective and safe protection in form of military or private armed guards. All-African piracy problem is much more complicated, with no visible profits for officialdom, why should they then, do anything realistic and effective, when they already demonstrated their inability to perform their duty under much easier circumstances? They wouldn’t, for sure. They’ll make a lot of talking, they’ll work out some useless best management practices and things like that, but they won’t do anything meeting the demands of reality.
Officials and politicians have to be either forced into proper actions, or removed from their positions. There must not be any doubts about the true character of the persons claiming themselves to be the industry leaders. They are tightly connected with in fact, two bodies – with national and international politicians and governments, and with major shipping companies. Most part of the shipping, be they ship owners or seafarers, simply don’t have any ways even to make themselves heard, let alone influence the system which regretfully, rules the shipping. There are problems which shipping may solve in so to say, passive way, like the problem of Somali piracy. Shipping simply turned away from UN, nations, IMO, Round Table and ITF, and started to hire private security, ignoring all the fuss and all the campaigns created by the officialdom. But All-Africa piracy problem can’t be solved in such a way, because it requires the involvement of many countries and many powers.
The only possible way to stage protests and raise a voice is internet, but not facebook, or twitter, or the like. The so-called social networks already germinated into some kind of monopoly monsters, and as such, easy subjects to manipulations or distortions. Facebook may be fine for Middle East revolutions, but won’t do for the specific industry or problem. The only possible way by now, seems to be some kind of campaign or campaigns carried out through web site or sites, which permit the industry participants to post and discuss most painful problems, work out possible decisions, vote for them and then send the results to main maritime organizations and to major media. With thousands and tens of thousands signatures collected by this or that campaign, even BBC or CNN, being as lying and corruptive as they are, won’t dare to overlook them, simply fearing rival news agencies will take the lead.
Legalize the arms!
The legalization of light firearms on board of merchant vessels must be made a special issue, subject to thorough investigation and public discussion. If the main body of the shipping will vote for the legalization of the arms on board, then, all the major maritime organizations with IMO on top, must abide, and act accordingly.
Stop the All-Africa piracy and violence!
1. All the major maritime organizations with IMO on top, during the year 2012, should come up with realistic, viable and scheduled solution or solutions of the problem of All-Africa piracy and violence.
2. All the plans they work out, should be discussed in public via internet, should be voted for, and by voting, either accepted or declined, by the main body of the shipping – by seafarers and shipowners, not by the heads of the maritime organizations.
Stop the “Somali piracy” scam!
1. Change the strategy of “Fighting the piracy” with “Protecting from piracy”.
2. Establish multinational military force for providing each passing dangerous waters vessel with military team.
3. Establish Victims of Piracy (VIP) Fund, with two main objectives: monetary compensation to all the seafarers who underwent piracy captivity, and help to all present and future victims, including shipowners. Monetary compensation is to be recognized as a symbol of national and international community’s responsibility for failing to protect shipping, it must be a substantial one-time payment to each victim, with the starting sum of $50,000 and up, depending on the time of the captivity of person to be compensated.
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May 09 2012