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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Armed guards off Somalia lead to problems

There is at the moment in Swedish media (and hopefully IRL as well) a discussion about problems with security companies used to protect ships from pirates. There are reports of fishermen being killed by armed guards on ships and that the companies lead to arms smuggling and more, in short; the many security companies in the area lead to problems of them self. I’m not that surprised and have heard similar rumours the last couple of years. The one thing I’ve noticed the most in my research is that the high involvement of security companies has affected the incident reports negatively. I think the effects on reports are a symptom of the same thing: some of the companies are not that interested in telling the world about how they work and the ship owners hiring them understand why.

When I about two years ago had a brief discussion with the person investigating the possibility to regulate the use of armed guards on Swedish ships (as a protection against pirates) I suggested that there should be a risk analysis that looked in to the potential gain with the regulation versus the potential problems with such a regulation. As I understand there never was one, the suggested law is based on the legal possibilities. However the law says (as IMO recommends) that the ship owner should do a risk analysis before taking the decision about hiring armed guards. This leads to two problems:

(1) There is a big difference in a risk analysis for a ship and an analysis of the industry/business of armed guards on ships. In the analysis for the ship such things as dead fishermen and arms smuggling by security companies are not consequences included in the analysis.
(2) There is no (good and well thought through) guideline for how ship owners are to do the risk analysis and how and to what extent the analysis should be audited. There is a possibility that a useless analysis fulfils the requirements.

The result is a multinational business on the waters off Somalia without any real control and too many without enough ethics. I’m convinced that there are good security companies and serious ship owners, but for every month without control there is a risk that the good percentage will decrease.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Every wave encounter is unique (and potentially powerful)

Lately I’ve been dealing a lot with uncertainties, both stochastic and knowledge based, as well as the effects of waves on floating constructions. As a result I’ve reflected on what could be seen as an unpredictability of the maritime domain.

The shape (including height and so on) of waves at sea are stochastic, there are theories about the probability distribution but not necessary perfect ones. So there is both a natural (never ending) variation of waves (aleatory uncertainty) and the fact that we don’t know exactly how this variation looks like (epistemic uncertainty). So in short, every wave is unique and there is no way of measuring it after it has hit the ship. The wave was the product of that instance and place and can never be recreated.

Another interesting or daunting aspect of waves is the high level of energy (as a result of the density of water) and how effortless it can be transported for long distances (which lead to the highest waves were many waves combine to a monster wave). Terrifying results from waves has been seen as results of both tsunamis and monster waves suspected to sink ship without a trace.

The situation isn’t the same for other areas, they have their set of uncertainties (aleatory and epistemic).

So should we give up and say that we know nothing of the future at sea, off course NOT! But we have to be better at understanding and dealing with the uncertainties (aleatory and epistemic). We have to take decisions (about such things as design and security) even if there are uncertainties!

There is therefore a need to further develop marine specific knowledge (to reduce the epistemic uncertainty) but also to use that specific knowledge when it comes to marine studies.

In short if you don’t know about the specific aleatory and epistemic uncertainties in the maritime domain, don’t work with trying to analyze the future in maritime cases and if you are to commission a study for the maritime domain make sure to demand maritime competence.