April 14, 2009

Shipping Industry Bears Blame for Pirate Vulnerabilities

While the world is reeling with shock and outrage at the brazen criminality of the pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, some of the heat should get pointed in another direction: the shipping industry.

In the day following the rescue of Capt. Phillips, pirates in the region have hijacked an additional four ships operating in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Its one of the world's busiest and most vital shipping lanes, crossed by over 20,000 ships each year.

Traditionally, the shipping industry has simply paid ransoms for crews and ships, advising crews not to resist and one can argue that this policy has been the most prudent in the face of piracy. The shipping industry however clearly fails in providing security on a different front and thats coordination. The shipping industry does not appear to be doing anything to proactively reduce the vulnerability of ships in this corridor, such as coordinating ship movement to cross the region where vessels are going in the same direction, or investing in coordinated security escorts for ships.

This region is transited by a huge number of ships and as best I can tell, those ships are transiting the Gulf of Aden today the same way they were before this piracy pandemic grew to its current proportions. The shipping industry needs to become much more proactive about shipping practice in the Gulf of Aden as long as Somalia remains a lawless and failed state.