Evolution of Gulf of Aden piracy, a personal insight:
About three and a half years ago, I decided that while I was fit enough, young enough and still daft enough, I was going to buck the pension trap and have a career change.
I had, for some time, harboured a wish to pursue a future within Maritime Security. It made sense, I had always had an interest of the sea and I had some basic maritime skills and qualifications, my military career had always been near (and at times on) water and a few years ago I had gained some experience working in and around boats, albeit small ones compared to most of the vessels I now frequent.
Just over two years ago I started as a team member with a maritime security company. At that time most companies involved with counter-piracy work were predominantly based between Djibouti and Oman, and our tasks were normally 3 to 4 days long between the two countries. There was also the Tuna fishing fleet protection, the protection of the oil lines and barges in the Niger Delta and various project works made up the remainder of the maritime industry. In the early days maritime security was still developing and work could be sporadic. Some companies would even fly operators home between tasks; some still do depending on their business models.
There are two distinct monsoon seasons that have an effect on piracy in the Indian Ocean, the most important being the summer monsoon between June and September. The South West Monsoon, or Khareef as its sometimes referred to, hits the southern Indian Ocean working it’s way up and across to the Horn of Africa and into the North Arabian Sea. This seasonal weather used to put a stop to all but the most persistent Somali pirates from operating. In August 2010 that changed as more entrepreneurial pirates moved location to where the monsoon had little impact.
The Red Sea is generally protected from the worst effects of the Hareef and given the narrow gap between the shores it provides the perfect playground for pirates to continue their attacks.
That was the turning point for many Maritime Security companies, and the pirates. A tactical release of the pirated vessels in September and October that year also allowed a greater increase in attacks, as there were more pirates freed up to go back to sea. This development had the knock on effect of more shipping and insurance companies looking for security providers. After their initial change in tactics, the Somali pirates have continued to branch out and take the initiative attack location. The most daring being the hijack in the anchorage in Port Salalah on the 20th August 2011. They successfully hijacked a vessel waiting to load whilst it was a few miles offshore amongst other vessels.
The days of 3-4 day transits are long gone. Two years ago it was fairly common at either end of your voyage to meet up with friends and colleagues that you hadn’t seen in a while. Due to the change in the pirates’ tactics, their expansion across the Indian Ocean, life for maritime security personnel has changed unrecognisably from those early days. I have now operated out of 13 countries and rarely bump into colleagues.
The bread and butter transits of tanker and bulk carriers has also increased, and as a result security teams are now embarking on numerous types of vessels, Split hopper barges, multi vessel armed convoys, heavy lifting vessels, a variety of tugs, pipe laying derricks and fibre optic survey vessels. One of the greatest benefits of the wide array of tasks is that all these vessels offer different challenges, which keeps us on our toes and the job interesting. My personal extremes for speed and size of vessels are, 0.7 knots, (about 1 mile an hour) being my slowest, which made it a very long transit, and the smallest was a 25m Ex-Vietnam inshore patrol boat with a draft of 1m, which in heavy seas in a force 6 wind for 5 days was uncomfortable to say the least!
With the demand on shipping companies to prepare their crews more thoroughly, maritime security companies are dealing with greater requests for training for both sea and land based employees.
Further advances that have come about in the last two years are the professionalising of security operators themselves. In some peoples’ eyes we were always the poor cousins to the Iraq and Afghan operators. Traditionally a good military background and a clean CRB check was normally all that was required for maritime security roles.
Flag states, the countries to which ships are registered, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and clients are insisting that operators have to gain additional qualifications to bring them up to a safe standard for going to sea. Maritime Security personnel need to obtain STCW ’95 (a seafarer’s basic safety qualification), a Seafarers medical examination and a letter from your GP confirming you are mentally sound. Seaman’s card and Seaman’s Discharge books are also commonplace. Some flag states prefer at least one of the team to have trauma qualifications, and given the likely location of any potential attack, that is not an unreasonable request. Others carry out additional CRB checks, not only for their country of origin but the UK as well. The IMO has also recently devised an accredited Counter Piracy and Robbery course aimed at seafarers.
One of the original attractions of my old job was that it gave uncertainty and excitement, but with time and the inevitable internal changes that unfortunately disappeared, hence my career change. If I was asked whether I was happy in making the change so late in life, I would wholeheartedly say “Yes”.
The shipping industry is renowned as being an industry that changes from day to day, nothing is written in stone, charters change, routes change, and cargo destinations change. Add that to an ever changing environment that we security consultants operate in and you end up with an enjoyable, diverse, and interesting job. Maritime Security is here to stay and while admittedly it’s not all fun, and at times can be boring, repetitive and frustrating, on the whole it’s okay.
It is continuing to become a more regulated industry, which is no bad thing in my opinion. The introduction of the Montreux Agreement, International Code of Conduct, IMO guidance and work of organisations such as the Security in Complex Environments Group (part of the UK’s Aeronautical, Defence Security Space Industries Association) and the Security Association of the Maritime Industry, will ensure that companies operate to higher standards and continue to develop with the ever changing tides.
by Scott D