The other day as I climbed up the pilot ladder and went to the poop deck, I was taken aback by the sight of a mannequin in army-fatigue standing erect with his arms shoved up. He was staring out with more than half of his body visible above the gunwale. Clearly, the dummy was supposed to carry a gun which was missing.
“We do place dummy guns here when we are sailing in troubled zones”, said my escort, when I enquired about it on my way up to the bridge. “This vessel has three of them at various points”, he added.
Once upon the bridge, I asked the master about the justification of carrying fakes instead of the real ones in troubled waters. “We do carry real ones in troubled waters Mr. Pilot,” he quipped. “They are called Marshals”. “We hire them at Colombo when we cross the Arabian Sea. We have three to four of them on every voyage and pay anything between $200 and $300 each, every day” he added. These toys supplement them.
Frankly, that was the first time I had boarded a vessel which had on board models guards for ship security and for that matter, that particular ship was the first one which revealed to me that ship owners hire marshals as a anti piracy policy when ships pass piracy affected areas. May be I was kept in the dark by some others because of their internal security policy or may be the subject did not arise.
Well, it was like a new beginning to me. I started delving into the subject for more and more information. I gathered that private companies have come up, on both sides of the Arabian Sea, who have ex-marines or naval soldiers on their payroll. When requisitioned, they send them on board. They carry weapons and it’s their firepower that was successful in thwarting advancing pirates. Apart from that, antipiracy methods such as citadel, non-lethal lasers, and some other methods are also extensively used at the sea to fight pirates.
Shipping companies like Cosco, Torm, etc have opted for these armed guards on board as a safety measure. Several maritime security companies have started providing ship security services as a result of sudden increase in demand for such services. Moreover, maritime insurance for piracy attacks has also become a mandatory thing for ships plying in piracy affected areas.
International Maritime Bureau reports state that by 25th June this year (2012), there have been 168 attacks and 19 hijacks while the Somali pirates are currently holding 13 vessels with 185 hostages. These figures are lower than that of the previous year and having armed guards on board is one of the reasons.
International shipping agencies have sought intervention of the UN regarding formation of a UN force, members of which will be posted on every ship plying through these areas, i.e., in and around the Gulf of Aden and Malacca Straits. Countries themselves are changing their laws to facilitate these armed postings.
Mike Penning, the shipping minister of UK, has stressed upon framing up of laws that can give seafarers of his country protection from sea pirates. Germany has allowed guards with semi automatic weapons for ships carrying their flag. Indian navy has been escorting ships for last few years through the Arabian Sea.
On 24th April, this year, Government of India had tabled the Piracy Bill 2012, which has stringent provisions of life term and even death sentence of the pirates, irrespective of their nationalities.
Framing of these stringent laws, globally, allowing Sea Marshals on board, and other on-board safety measures might keep the sea pirates at bay.
It is also important that seafarers are trained to tackle piracy attacks by teaching them about the actions to be taken during piracy attacks and negotiating with pirates if necessary. Both offline and online anti piracy courses are also available to train maritime professional on anti piracy techniques.