Piracy attacks have hit an unprecedented high in 2011. Norway has countered by adopting regulations for the shipping industry to arm its vessels as of July and sending Orion aircraft to survey sea traffic offshore Somalia.
In the first nine months of 2011, there were 199 attacks against vessels worldwide compared to 126 a year earlier, according to the International Maritime Bureau. But there have been fewer actual hijacking of vessels. Only 24 vessels were hijacked compared to 35 a year earlier.
The IMB credits the fall to policing by international naval forces, onboard security measures, and proper use of the industry’s latest Best Management Practice, such as retreating to a citadel, i.e. a designated area specifically built into the ship where crew can seek protection.
The general trend has been an increase in the geographical range in which pirates operate, such as off the coast of West Africa, and the aggressiveness of their attacks. The increased violence is partly in response to the successful use of “passive” tactics by shipowners, whereby vessels employ barbed wire and water cannons to fend off pirates from boarding their vessel.
“Last year, pirates had to work harder to go against passive measures. They fired more rounds during attacks,” said Haakon Svane, Norwegian Shipowners’ Association director of contingency planning. “Our concern is what they are going to do this year.”
Norway faces the same threat against Somali pirates as its fellow shipping nations. The NSA estimates there are 1,000 transits by Norwegian-owned vessels per year through the Gulf of Aden, half of which are Norwegian-flagged vessels. In addition, there are several hundred Norwegian ships travelling through the Straits of Hormuz between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and some 2,200 ports of call in piracy threatened areas.
During a general spike in activity in January/February of 2011, there was one attack on a Norwegian vessel per week, according to Svane. There was a 60% overall increase in attacks during the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2010. The combined security measures do help, according to the NSA, but the fear is that the Norwegian fleet could see the same heightened piracy activity this coming fall and winter.
Norway Arms Vessels
To counter the threat, Norwegian shipowners have started to hire armed security to safeguard their vessels. The initiative started this year when the shipping industry sought and obtained confirmation from the Norwegian government that a law dating back to 2007 – which allows the shipmaster to protect his ship by any means – also opened up for armed personnel on board as protection. Norway’s Ministry of Trade and Industry followed up with a regulation effective July 1, 2011 that stipulates types of arms and conditions for engaging in conflict, all of which must be based on a concrete risk assessment.
The Norwegian shipping industry was – much like its international counterpart – reticent to implement strong-armed tactics against pirates. The concern was that the presence of guns onboard could step up the conflict. However, the pirates had increased their violent tactics before shipowners started hiring armed guards. Several European countries are still debating whether to implement the practice. Some, such as France and Italy, forbid the use of private armed guard service but opt instead to place a military presence onboard.