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Friday, 15 April 2016

Maritime security: information has gone missing?

I’ve followed maritime security with a systematic approach since 2010. In my research, and when discussing maritime security measures with ship operators, reliable and systematic descriptions of incidents are important. Without such information also I’m left with nothing but guesswork. I’ve over the years come across information or descriptions of incidents that doesn’t appear in the statistics or correspond with the general beliefs.

Case 1. The first discrepancy is that one about the effectiveness of armed guards on ships which is by many claimed to be 100% effective off Somalia. I’ve heard many say “a ship with armed guards have never been successfully attacked by pirates (off Somalia)”. This is off course not a true statement:

Firstly: at sea (and in many other situations) nothing is 100% except the fact that you don’t have all the information.

Secondly: I’ve heard a couple of very reliable accounts about incidents off Somalia from different years, situations and ships describing successful boarding’s on ships with armed guards. A typical end to such an incident is that the armed guards throw their weapons over board when they realize they are beaten and the company providing the guards takes responsibility over (not) reporting the incident.

Thirdly: The people typically making claims about armed guards being the only 100% effective measure (ship operator executives) should be smart enough to know that the claim isn’t true.

Fourth: In other areas, such as off Nigeria, even the official effectiveness of armed guards is far from 100%.

I don’t know the correct figure for the effectiveness of armed guards off Somalia (it is however high) and I’ve not tried to investigate it either. My point is that the case of armed guards is an example of how poorly the truth sometimes is treated when reporting maritime security incidents.

Case 2. For a coming publication I searched for records of incidents off West Africa 2012 and 2013 that wasn’t included in the official ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB []) statistics. I found some records illustrating that incidents without consequences, i.e., such as a suspicious approach without boarding, not always was reported. This is not surprising, for many seafarers this as seen as a normal, but unpleasant, day in that area. I.e., nothing to report.

More surprising was the high profile incidents I found where the paper trail was disappearing fast. With high profile I here mean European or North American ship operators in combination with severe consequences such as kidnapping. For a couple of such incidents (I found four) no records at all were included in the IMB incidents description even though there were newspaper articles describing at least some aspects of the incidents.
I understand that reporting such incidents isn’t your first priority or sometimes not even possible during an attack. But it should be in the industry’s interest that at least some basic aspects such as date, time, position, and consequence in general terms are reported in the days or weeks after. This to make sure that the situation at sea can be captured, communicated and reacted on as correctly as possible. Especially given the sea blindness shore based decision-makers seem have.

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