MarAd chief asks insurers to aid piracy fight
U.S. Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda called on the insurance industry Monday to offer a standard insurance rate reduction to shipping companies that use “best management practices” aimed at making their ships less vulnerable to attacks by pirates.
Speaking at the U.S. State Department to United Nations-sponsored groups addressing piracy off the coast of Somalia, Matsuda said pirates are becoming more violent, operating over a wider area, and demanding higher ransoms.
In addition to the murder of four Americans on the yacht Quest last week, Matsuda said pirates have reportedly shifted to the use of torture in some cases and have executed at least one crewmember.
A record 1,000 seafarers were taken hostage in 2010 and ransoms have also sharply increased from an average of $150,000 five years ago to $5.4 million last year. According to various estimates, there are 700 to 800 seafarers currently held hostage by pirates.
Matsuda said more must be done to communicate the effectiveness of best management practices for security and provide incentives for more vessel operators to adhere to them.
Some insurers are offering rebates to carriers who take steps to reduce the vulnerability of their ships to pirate attack.
He suggested the insurance industry formulate a standard insurance rate reduction for following industry best practices.
“For example, actions such as reporting to antipiracy operations centers — including the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) — are simple to do and easy to verify,” he said.
The Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard are talking to insurers in the United States and England about such steps, he added.
Other steps used by well-prepared ocean carriers include posting watches at all times in the danger zone, unbolting boarding ladders, and moving at high speed in areas of pirate activity.
Matsuda also noted that MarAd is funding an antipiracy training video and seeking industry help to get it translated into languages other than English. The agency is also carrying out a project with the Philippines government that involves anti-piracy training and post-incident debriefing with experts at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, state maritime academies, and union training institutions.
Meanwhile, a coalition of international shipping and labor associations renewed calls for governments to take more decisive action to punish and deter pirates operating off the coast of Somalia.
The International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, the International Shipping Federation, Intercargo, the tanker group INTERTANKO and the International Transport Workers’ Federation urged citizens to protest on behalf of seafarers who are taken hostage. It placed advertisements Tuesday in several major newspapers to kick off its Save Our Seafarers (SOS) Campaign.
The groups said the expanded geographic scope of pirate activity in 2010 — south to Mozambique and east to the Indian Ocean close to India — could force vessel operators to avoid that section of the world, which would impact trade flows.
“The dramatic recent extension of the pirates’ operating area right across the Indian Ocean means that there are now no alternative routes to avoid the Somali pirate gangs, especially for tankers coming out of the Gulf. Ship owners and seafarers are re-evaluating their current determination to ensure that these vital trade routes remain open, and are going to have to choose whether to trade through this area or not,” the coalition said in a statement.
The shipping associations and the ITF complained that naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean release most pirates they capture unless it involves a direct national interest because of jurisdictional and legal complexities, and an unwillingness by governments to take on the burden of prosecutions.
“Pirates are getting stronger, more violent and richer every day as a result of inertia by governments,” ITF General Secretary David Crockett said.
The SOS Campaign recommends governments take the following steps:
' Reduce the effectiveness of easily identifiable pirate motherships, which enable attack boats to operate far out to sea.
' Authorize naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment.
' Fully criminalize all acts of piracy and intent to commit piracy under national laws in accordance with international conventions.
' Increase naval assets in the region.
' Provide greater protection and support for seafarers.
' Trace and prosecute the organizers and financiers behind the pirate
“Politicians don’t realize the severity of this crisis. Escalation affects our seafarers first and foremost, but the potential effect on world trade and regional stability will affect us all. Governments can no longer afford to simply to deter and disrupt the pirates,” Intercargo Chairman Nicky Pappadakis, said.
The shipping coalition asked people to fill out the petition on the SOS Web site and send it to government officials. The site will also have news and updates about the piracy situation. ' Chris Dupin and Eric Kulisch