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Monday, 20 August 2012

Speed in pirate waters, expensive but important protection

According to several sources ships slow down in pirate waters to save fuel and according to the Financial Times (May 2012) shipping companies are now relying on guards, rather than speed, for protection because a single day at lower speeds can save enough to pay the guards for the whole journey.

I’ve not seen this among the ship owners and operators I’ve talked to, but it is clear that high speed is a costly security measure.

If in fact the speed in the high risk area is lowered it will lead to an increased number of attacks and that the failed attacks will end much closer to the ships. Speed is a very good and non-violent measure. The speed itself drastically reduces the number of feasible ships to attack; calculations show that increases from 16 to 18 knots can half the probability of a successful approach. But a small increase in speed also lead to a relatively big increase in wave height in the ship’s wave system. This amplifies the effect of the increased speed and also makes it much harder to get close to and board the ship.

The speed reduction will therefore lead to:
pirates getting closer and that the number of shots exchanged will increase, but also
-  much more dangerous shots as the probability of an hit is increased with several hundred percent!

Lowering the speed will therefore introduce new risks which are hard to predict. Armed guards should not be the first measure, it should be the last!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Collision between USS Porter and bulk/oil tanker M/V Otowasan

Busy waters means that incidents happen and the Strait of Hormuz are busy waters in more than one sense. I’ve no more information about the reason for the collision than others, but the incident itself is yet more evidence that the reality for military ships has changed; the interaction with civilian ships (friendly and antagonistic) has introduced a full range of new risks.
At least in Europe as well as NATO there is a discussion about how much of the design principles and safety work for naval ships that can be based on civilian rules and codes. Evidence of this is for example the military class codes offered by several classification societies and the NATO Naval Ship Code that is “based on, and benchmarked against, conventions and resolutions of the International Maritime Organisation” (NATO Standardization Organisation, 2010). The reasons for this are several; one is that taking use of the experience in the civilian industry can reduce costs and another is that navy operations today are performed in waters extremely busy with civilian activity.
I’m however not sure that we know how to balance the different kinds of risks against navy ships. In the recent years we have for example the attack on USS Cole, the USS Poster collision and three years ago a collision between the USS Hartford, a nuclear-powered submarine, with the USS New Orleans, an amphibious ship also in the Strait of Hormuz.
Mentioned events above are all three very different types of risk. However, these kinds of events can influence the decisions taken about configurations and organizations on naval ships without enough knowledge on how likely the events actually are. For many it is enough evidence that they have happened ones! This is off course not the right way to handle the future. When it comes to such important things as weighing different alternatives for navy vessels we need to do a much more thorough analysis.
The tools for that kind of analysis are not included in the new rules and codes from NATO and classification societies. The analysis (and choice of tools) is therefore the responsibility of each nation and much more research is needed before we can do such an analysis with confidence.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Swedish contribution to operation Atalanta for 2013

HSwMS Carlskrona. Photo: Anna Norén/Combat Camera

In the beginning of July the Swedish government decided to, in 2013, send the Royal Swedish Navy's HSwMS Carlskrona to the waters off Somalia to join Operation Atalanta for the second time.
The decision isn’t especially controversial and is an important contribution, especially considering the low number of ships included in the operation (at the moment 5 ships and 3 aircrafts). So every ship counts and really increases the area covered and ships supported by the operation. I also think (as many others) that many other good things come out from the experience of having European ships working together on task like this. Off course Sweden should be a part of this again!
From my perspective an interesting question is how operation Atalanta best supports the shipping through the region. The UN defined tasks off course: the protection of vessels of the WFP; the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast; the protection of vulnerable shipping off the Somali coast; and the monitoring of fishing activities off the coast of Somalia. But doing this EU NAVFOR gets a lot of information about the pirates, some which is time critical and some that is more general. Is this information used and passed on as effectively as possible?
Photo: Swedish Armed Forces
Doing interviews with ship operators I can see that the information they get about piracy is important in their risk management and I think there is room for more information, especially if it is more than raw data on incidents. The incidents reports are only snap shots of the piracy activity. If EU NAVFOR could use their information (from land, sea and air) I'm sure they could present a much more comprehensive picture of the piracy activity which could help ship operators with route planning and deciding between different risk control options.
Ship operators also would like to have a more integrated cooperation with navy units in order to improve the exchange of experience in regards to ship security and pirate’s modus operand.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Do I need a reality check?

It is easy to sit here at my office and have comments on other persons risk taking and I really try not to judge peoples actions. I want to be constructive and help to improve safety and security work further. But off course also I wonder “what would I’ve done” or “how would I’ve reacted” when hearing stories from the real world outside my office.
After now spending a couple of weeks at sea with loved ones and captain of the boat (both sail and power boats) I now have some resent empirical actions and events to reflect upon. Doing this I can see that reviewing my own vacation risk management at sea meets many of the same challenges as I meet in my regular research such as:
-          What is/was the probability of the occurred events,
-          what is “inventible” and what is a result of my own actions and choices, and
-          I don’t really have good documentation on what actually happened.
But I can also recognize the tradeoffs I do between risks and rewards especially in my choices of anchoring places (as we do it in Sweden with the stem towards land and anchor at the stern).
The rewards is to get to beautiful places on small islands without other boats and people and the risk is the shallow waters with a lot of rocks below the water surface in combination with at times challenging wind and weather.
To the left chart over typical waters for secluded mooring and below to the right the rewarding tranquility that the efforts and risk can lead to.

In hindsight I see my preparations in the form of a daily risk analysis were I actually consider applied scenarios and possible consequences including probabilities and beforehand define suitable risk control options with contingency plans as well as things that are risk drivers that I should not do. So far it has been working!
And when analyzing the groundings I’ve seen this summer (by other boats) it is clear they all have common aspects:
-          The skipper is somewhat unfamiliar with the situation
-          Something small happens (incident A) that interfere with the intentions
-          The actions taken to fix incident A are ”effective” in regards to that incident but creates other bigger problems (the actions are risk drivers)
-          The skipper loses control over the situation
But luckily the consequences are small even though the event is embarrassing for the skipper and crew.
I can at least draw one conclusion: A big percentage (more than 50%) of the groundings I see every year (by vacation boaters) could be eliminated with a risk aware planning which only would take minutes.
If I had more time I would do a research paper on this!