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Nautical Institute Piracy Conference
Friday, 13th November 2009-11-11
Chairman, honorable guests, delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
You will have noticed that I am not Arthur Bowring, the Managing Director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association! I am standing in for Arthur, who sends his regrets at not being able to be here; he is standing in for the Chairman of the Association by representing the Association and the International Chamber of Shipping at the World Shipping (China) Summit in Qingdao. As you can see, we are quite thinly stretched, particularly at this time of year!
I am sorry I have not been able to be with you during all of the sessions today. You have had a very impressive line up of speakers, and you will now know far more than I will ever understand about piracy and attacks on ships. But perhaps I can tell you something of the Association’s work on this essential issue.
The members of our Association remain extremely concerned about attacks on merchant ships, but while you would be right to assume that our concern is in respect of the danger to the ship and cargo, our main concern is for the seafarers and their families. We do not take lightly the stress on seafarers in preparing to enter a piracy area, and the psychological effect of that stress on the seafarers and their families. Arthur tells me that owners who have phoned him on this issue are almost always looking for advice on how best to protect their seafarers and help the families of their seafarers deal with the situation. A shipowner or ship manager has a Duty of Care towards all of his employees, a duty that calls for the adoption of the best possible and most effective protective measures. In our work with the International Shipping Federation, where Arthur is Chairman of the Labour Affairs Committee, the maritime employers’ representative association, we are working towards providing ISF members with Best Practice guidelines on how best to protect their seafarers and take care of their families.
We are very grateful for the protection given to our ships by the world’s navies, particularly for the Hong Kong registered ships by the PLA; this has greatly reduced the number and severity of attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden. But, like a balloon, when you press down in one area, it pops up in another, and the protection we now have in the relatively small sea area of the Gulf has encouraged the pirates to stalk their prey vast distances off the coast of Somalia. Sea areas that are just too large to patrol and protect. Recent incidents have taught us that it is now necessary to adopt protective measures even when not in areas where pirates have been assumed to operate. They have also shown us that the most effective weapon we hold is a good look-out – the earlier we can spot the mother ship and the skiffs, the sooner we can take evasive action and put in place other protective measures. And perhaps the second most effective weapon is to monitor the reports of piratical attacks – previous attacks on ships in these vast sea areas will show the approximate area where a mother ship is operating.
We continue to urge our members to risk assess, report and register, and to carry on board and refer to the Best Management Practices as well as the IMO Circular MSC.1/Circ.1334. We disseminate to our members experience and photographs reported by other members who have been through the Gulf of Aden. While many of the protective measures shown in the photographs cannot be used on every ship, we hope that they will give the seafarers on board some ideas of what they can do.
We agree with the International Chamber of Shipping that arms should not be carried on board ships – our seafarers are not trained military, and who would be liable if someone got hurt? We also agree that if armed guards are to be put on the ship during transit, then they should be authorised by the flag state and should be trained military. We are receiving many offers each week of armed support, from e-mail addresses that are hardly recognisable. Hardly the stuff that would build confidence in practice.
Again, I am grateful to be permitted to join you at the end of this very full day, but if I could I would just like to remind us all that piracy and armed attacks on merchant vessels is not new, and is not confined to the waters off Somalia. Solving the problem of Somalia, however far away that would seem today, will not solve the problem of piracy and armed attack. While the incidents off Somalia have brought the issue to the forefront of political and media debate, we are still facing attack off the West African coast, in the South China Sea and in other areas around the world. It is possible that if the global economic recession continues, then we could face the threat of armed robberies in other, as yet unidentified, parts of the world. This is not a problem that will disappear overnight, despite our best wishes. A longer-term solution to the very unfortunate political situation in Somalia and the surrounding region is perhaps our immediate concern, but we do need to look for longer term solutions to attacks on ships. This is a debate that is, in my mind, just as important as the essential debate you have had today.
Chairman, thank you very much for this opportunity to say a few words, and again, my thanks to those who have joined us today, particularly those who have come a long way.