Ship owners livid with naval response to Gulf of Aden piracy
A collection of shipping bodies on Monday sharply criticized comments from the head of the naval coalition in charge of protecting commercial vessels in the piracy-riddled Gulf of Aden, comments that indicated shipping lines would have to take preventative measures of their own to avoid attacks.
With ships passing through the key Middle East waterway being threatened or hijacked on a near daily basis, BIMCO, ICS/ISF, INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO and the International Transport Workers' Federation said in a joint statement that protection efforts are “unacceptable.”
“If civil aircraft were being hijacked on a daily basis, the response of governments would be very different,” the statement said. “Yet ships, which are the lifeblood of the global economy, are seemingly out of sight and out of mind. This apparent indifference to the lives of merchant seafarers and the consequences for society at large is simply unacceptable.”
The ship owners associations were “dismayed by recent comments, attributed to leaders of the Coalition Task Force operating in the Gulf of Aden, that it is not the job of navy forces to protect merchant ships and their crews from increasingly frequent attacks from pirates operating out of Somalia.”
A week ago, the leader of the task force, U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, said the coalition “does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region. The shipping companies must take measures to defend their vessels and their crews. We made this clear at the outset — our efforts cannot guarantee safety in the region.”
That admission stunned the various shipping groups, who only a couple weeks ago had sent a plea to the United Nations for help securing the gulf.
“The shipping industry is utterly amazed that the world's leading nations, with the naval resources at their disposal, are unable to maintain the security of one of the world's most strategically important seaways, linking Europe to Asia via the Red Sea/Suez Canal,” the statement said. “Since 9/11, the international shipping industry has spent billions of dollars to comply with stringent new security requirements, agreed by the international community to address concerns about terrorism. Yet when merchant ships — which carry 90 percent of world trade and keep the world economy moving — are subject to attack by violent pirates, the response of many governments is that it is not their problem and that ships should hire mercenaries to protect themselves.”
What’s more, the statement implied that shipping lines would be forced to pull services through the Suez and sail around Africa instead.
“There should be no doubt that the situation is now so serious that major shipping companies, who are currently negotiating with charterers to avoid transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea/Suez Canal all together, will decide to redirect their ships via the Cape of Good Hope,” the shipping bodies said. “This would add several weeks to the duration of many ships' voyages and would have severe consequences for international trade, the maintenance of inventories and the price of fuel and raw materials. This would also affect not just those countries to which cargoes are destined but all global seaborne trade, a consequence which, in the current economic climate, must surely be avoided.”