The International Union of Marine Insurance has issued a bulletin warning of a dangerous new trend in the ongoing Middle East piracy attacks. “The recent attempts by Somali pirates to hijack cruise ships in the Gulf of Aden has added a new and dangerous dimension to the whole piracy problem,” said the IUMI’s bulletin.
“The Nautica was the second cruise vessel to have come under attack in the region this year, but it was the first time that a vessel of this size, which had more than 1,000 people on board, had been targeted,” said the bulletin.
“This incident was followed at the beginning of December by determined, but unsuccessful, attempts to board the small, elderly cruise vessel Athena. It was reported that the vessel, with almost 400 Australian tourists on board, was surrounded by 29 pirate boats off the coast of Somalia, even though it was said to be in a convoy.”
As a result the IUMI warned “it appears that the safety of passenger vessels cannot be vouchsafed …at a time when cruising is growing ever more popular.”
IUMI President Deirdre Littlefield noted that “despite the deployment of naval vessels, the recommended safe channel for navigation, patrols and attempts to run convoys, the Somali gangs of pirates were daily growing more audacious and successful in their forays and with a wider geographical reach.
“The latest reported attack was off the coast of Tanzania, well south of the pirates’ usual hunting areas and close to where the VLCC Sirius Star was captured. The vessel involved was a Maersk containership, which managed to escape after being fired on.”
The IUMI noted: “So far there has been no loss of life as a direct result of pirate attacks, which is really maritime terrorism, but how long will it be before we see innocent blood spilled?” The organization added that the West African piracy situation seemed to be getting worse, and at the weekend pirates boarded a vessel in Malaysian waters.”
Calls for an armed presence on ships, however, may be misguided. The IUMI said that placing “private security squads on board merchant ships, whether they are armed or unarmed, might be regarded as an effective deterrent by some ship owners, but on the other hand it might only aggravate the situation.
“Such action could also create considerable problems for marine underwriters and P&I clubs and lead to a legal minefield,” the IUMI added.
However, the IUMI has welcomed the news that the UN Security Council has renewed and extended Resolution 1848 to allow international naval forces to enter Somalia’s territorial waters to stop acts of piracy. Hopefully, combined air and naval operations involving EU member states can start off the Somali coast this week.
“We join with all other international organizations in the maritime industry in calling for positive and co-operative action to bring a swift end to this threat to lives, property and the environment.
“If the Somali threat and the legal issues surrounding it are not resolved soon, what will be the impact on world trade? Today, Somalia; tomorrow, another important shipping route placed in jeopardy? It is crucial that an international solution is found.”
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