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Feb 4, 2009

House panel hears testimony on how to beat the pirates

Though "well constructed dummies placed at strategic intervals around the ship" may be a useful counter piracy measure, firearms are considered unsuitable, particularly for tankers and LNG ships.

Those are among "lessons learned" that the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) is recommending to shipowners.

Captain Phil M. Davies, Director of OCIMF, was among witnesses testifying today at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on international piracy on the high seas.

You can access the hearing documentation here, including Captain Davies' written testimony.

As the hijacking of the VLCC Sirius Star underlined, tankers in loaded condition present high value targets that are especially at risk and Captain Davies spelled out some of the key lessons learned that OCIMF has incorporated in a booklet accessible here: Piracy 'The East Africa/Somalia Situation; Practical Measures to Avoid, Deter or Delay Piracy Attacks."

Just a few of the points covered in the booklet include the need for the shipowner and the ship master to carry out their own risk assessment before transiting the High Risk Area. The output of this risk assessment should identify measures for prevention, mitigation and recovery and will mean combining statutory regulations with supplementary measures to combat piracy.

Recent experience demonstrates that vessels can significantly improve their chances of avoiding or delaying an act of piracy by taking a number of relatively simple preparatory steps

Experience also suggests that, before pirates have gained control of a vessel, the sudden appearance of naval forces by air or sea usually persuades them to abandon the attack. Therefore, delaying the pirates at any stage of an attack buys additional time and can greatly increase the chance of naval force intervention.

Careful preparations by the ship, including specific training for the crew, may dissuade the pirates from pressing home an attack and hijacking a vessel if their closer inspection of the potential target reveals a number of protection measures.

If pirates choose to proceed with an attack the physical preparations may prevent or delay boarding of the vessel. If the pirates do manage to board the vessel, preparations onboard can still delay or prevent them taking control and hijacking the vessel.

Owners of vessels that make frequent transits through the High Risk Area may consider making further alterations to the vessel and/or provide additional equipment and/or manpower as a means of further reducing the risk of piracy attack.

One of the measures suggested in the OCIMF booklet is the use of "well constructed dummies placed at strategic intervals around the ship to give an impression of greater numbers of people on watch."

Speaking of dummies, Captain Davies testified that It is estimated that as many as 30% of the vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden are not following the minimum guidance outlined in publications such as the OCIMF booklet. These vessels put themselves at serious risk of harm and the ease of their capture encourages piracy to continue

Electrified barriers are not recommended for hydrocarbon carrying vessels, but may be appropriate for some other types of vessel. Warning signs of the electrified fence or barrier should be displayed-- inward facing in English/language of the crew, outward facing in Somali. The outward facing warning signs might also be considered even if no part of the barrier is actually electrified.

OCIMF strongly supports the use of non-lethal defensive measures to avoid, deter or delay any pirate attack, but according to Captain Davies' written testimony, oil tankers and LNG ships do not provide a platform conducive for armed guards or gunfire. In fact, OCIMF does not support the use of armed guards for a number of reasons, including a significantly increased risk of personnel injury, fire and explosion.

The OCIMF booklet says there are differing views on whether the AIS should be switched on or off during the time that the ship is in the High Risk Area. SOLAS requires that ships fitted with AIS maintain it in operation at all times except where international agreements, rules or standards provide for the protection of navigational information. If the AIS is switched off it is very difficult for the naval forces to identify, track and monitor merchant vessels transiting the High Risk Area.

As it is considered unlikely that the pirates currently have the ability to monitor AIS transmissions, it is recommended that the AIS be left on but that the amount of information be restricted to ship's identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and other safetyrelated information which may be of use to the Naval Forces in the event of an attack. However, it is recognized that the Master may exercise his discretion and switch off the AIS.


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