Friday, September 9, 2011

Addressing Maritime Piracy

Today the the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO, INTERTANKO and INTERCARGO, who together represent approx. 90% of shipowners, transmitted a "hard-hitting letter" to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling on the UN Security Counsel to establish an international armed UN Force to accompany merchant vessels transiting the Indian Ocean to protect against pirate attacks. 

We believe that an important element in this approach would be the establishment of a UN Force of Armed Military Guards that can be deployed in small numbers onboard merchant ships. This would be an innovative force in terms of UN peacekeeping activity but it would do much to stabilise the situation, to restrict the growth of unregulated, privately contracted armed security personnel and to allow those UN Member States lacking maritime forces - including those in the region most immediately affected - to make a meaningful contribution in the area of counter-piracy.

I reject this "micro" level approach.

First, the maritime piracy situation is horrible indeed, especially in the Indian Ocean.  Without question, the situation is extremely bad and not improving.  Many companies now have their vessels travel by convoy or, in increasing numbers, with an armed contingent of private contractors on board to defend the vessel.  These tactics have had some success.  Generally, the costs for these are passed along to the cargo owners whose goods are at risk. 

Additionally, the navies of many countries are patrolling the region to intercept and intercede in piracy operations.  Protecting merchant shipping from piracy on the high seas is, in fact, one of the founding reasons for the raising of a navy.  The U.S. Navy is a prime example of this with a history of anti-piracy operations in the West Indies, the Aegean Sea, and most recently in the Gulf of Aden.  It's operations should continue.  Other national navies are also participating in these efforts.

All of these tactics are the best that can be done under the current circumstances. 

Placement of UN "peacekeeping" forces on merchant ships is not the answer.  The first problem are its Rules of Engagement.  Often UN peace keepers have a very high threshhold to be authorized to use deadly force.  These barriers do not exist with national navies or with private security forces.  I would not want to create a situation where the UN is providing nothing more than additional hostages for pirates.

Second, a UN force would absolutely require highly specialized training.  Members of national forces and private security companies have the training necessary to carry out the job, including weapons and negotiation skills.  Those people are already where they need to be and operate best within the groups they train and work. Amateurs comprised of nationals from the various countries lacking maritime forces are not the right people for the job.

Third, the shipowners' proposal simply transfers the costs of security to an international governmental body.  I believe that the shipowners, not the UN, should bear these costs, especially since they are in the best position to assess risks, and spread risks and costs through insurance and cargo owners.

Lastly, the proposed approach ignores the root cause of the problem:  A complete lack of government in Somalia.  The pirates exist because there is no real government to impose law and order. It is a system of anarchy. 

The UN's efforts are best served at solving the political end, to establish a proper government to handle the needs of the country.  Yes it will take many years, but it has to start now.

In my opinion, the UN should be involved on a "macro" level."  For example, by UN resolution establishing shipping lanes for the area that would be patrolled by national navies and vessels move in convoy.  I would also agree with a UN resolution authorizing national military forces, under a concerted single command, to sweep and clear land positions held by pirate leaders who are living large on million dollar ransoms they received for the release of vessels and people. 

We are kidding ourselves if we think the piracy problem can only be addressed at sea.  Until pirate leaders are captured or killed, it will continue.

Cargo owners--best to pay for those SR & CC and War Risk Endorsements!

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