What's the best way for a shipowner to avoid having a ship hijacked by pirates?

Reroute the ship even if it means a huge diversion
Stay within recommended safe limits and patrolled areas
Hire an on-board security team
Just hope for the best

December 16, 2008

More ships grabbed as UN agrees strikes at Somali bases

Today, as reports came in of more pirate hijackings, the UN Security Council again agreed to new antipiracy measures that would permit Somali pirates to be pursued on land--and the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) proposed a number of practical steps to help in dealing with the problem.

The latest hijackings were of a tug and barge owned by Malaysia's Muhibbah Engineering and on charter to Total and a 330 ft Antigua and Barbados-flag containership MV Bosphorus Prodigy, owned by Isko Marine Company of Turkey. There is also an unconfirmed report that a yacht with two people on board was also seized.

Pirates also succeeded in boarding a Chinese-owned vessel "Zhenhua 4" on Wednesday, but the crew of four prevented them from invading their crew accommodation for several hours. The pirates fled the ship when helicopters arrived from the EU naval force now in the area.

You can access the UN press release with full details of today's resolution HERE

The resolution was sponsored by the U.S. and you can read a statement by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice HERE.

Among other things, the Secretary of State called for the maritime industry to promote capabilities to enhance ship self-defense. "Once a hostage situation develops, the stakes in military operations increase," she said. "Consequently, an important part of counter-piracy efforts must be measured in enhancing self-defense capabilities of commercial vessels, increasing the odds of success against pirates until warships arrive."

The Secretary of State also called for building more legal capacity to prosecute pirates.

That is one of the issues addressed in the proposals from UNODC.

"Pirates can not be keel-hauled or forced to walk the plank, nor should they be dumped off the Somali coast", said the Executive Director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa, "they need to be brought to justice".

UNODC has proposed a number of measures designed to deter, arrest and prosecute pirates.

"Ideally, suspects should be tried in the country where they came from, or in the country that owns the seized ship. But the Somali criminal justice system has collapsed, and countries like Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands -- where many of the ships are registered -- do not want to deal with crimes committed thousands of miles away," said Mr. Costa.

A second option is for the suspects to be sent to stand trial in the countries whose ships captured them: most probably the European Union, India or the United States. "But this is also unlikely since there are strict international standards about protecting human rights and handing over suspects within a short period of time", said Mr. Costa.

A third, and more realistic option, proposed by UNODC is for the pirates to be tried in the region, having been arrested by local policemen.

"I encourage 'ship riders' to be deployed on warships operating off the Horn of Africa in order to arrest pirates and bring them to justice in neighboring countries", said Mr. Costa.

Such an arrangement (subject to a special agreement) would enable a law enforcement officer from, for example, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania or Yemen, to join a warship off the coast of Somalia as a 'ship rider, arrest the pirates in the name of their country, and then have them sent to their national court for trial. The practice has been employed in the Caribbean to arrest drug traffickers.

The key is to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice systems in the region to effectively investigate and prosecute piracy cases. UNODC is therefore helping States implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and other relevant international instruments to fight crime.

"Regional cooperation is essential", said Mr. Costa. "A few years ago, piracy was a threat to the Straits of Malacca. By working together, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand managed to cut the number of attacks by more than half since 2004".

UNODC also endorsed measures to tackle the piracy threat on land.

"The pirates' coastal bases in Somalia and their support networks need to be dismantled, in exchange for development aid to improve local administration and create job alternatives to piracy and smuggling", said Mr. Costa. "Shipping and insurance companies should provide assistance to prevent further attacks instead of exacerbating the problem by paying ransoms," he added.

UNODC also proposes going after the financial flows. "Somali pirates are in it for the money, so we should try to capture their treasure", said Mr. Costa. "Unlike buccaneers of old, Somali mafias are not burying their booty in the sand. While some transactions are made in cash or the hawala system, pirates are increasingly working through intermediaries in financial center. This is where we need to hit them."

"Piracy is organized crime, and should be confronted as such. Gunboats are necessary, but not sufficient. These bandits can be defeated in the courts, the banks, the ports as well as on the high seas using the weapons of international law and multi-lateral cooperation," said Mr. Costa.

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