Hong Kong International Piracy Conference
Captain Alan LoyndFNI and
Captain RE Herman MNI
The Hong Kong International Piracy Conference held at the Mariner's Club in Kowloon on 13 November 2008, attracted widespread attention in the media and local community at large, not only for its topical subject matter, but also due to the appearance of two senior officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy among the speakers. These became instant media stars.
It was organised by the Hong Kong SAR,
branch of The Nautical Institute with the support of the Hong Kong Ship Owners' Association. China
It took the form of a full day seminar and the focus was on the present situation in the Gulf of Aden and in the north-west
Indian Ocean. where pirates are now operating up to 1000 nautical miles off the coast of . Somalia
The conference was opened by Roger Tupper,
Hong Kong's Director of Marine. who highlighted the risks faced by the world's seafarers off the coast of East Africa and in other parts of the world. Senior Captain Hu Gangfeng, who has served with the People's Republic of China (PRC) flotilla in the area, and is now based in the operations department of the PLA Navy's general staff headquarters in Beijing, told delegates that China is seeking better intelligence sharing, tighter coordination of naval patrols and tactical cooperation between navies to combat the threat of the Somali pirates. He described the pirates as `getting trickier' and also highlighted 's determination to fulfill its international obligations and `act as a responsible country internationally'. China
Commander Liang Wei, deputy chief of operations of
's South Sea Fleet spoke of the desire to enhance international cooperation and improve regional peace and safety, and said the PLA Navy `requires this kind of international experience'. China
Commodore Timothy Lowe RN, deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces operating in the Gulf of Aden region gave an overview of the present situation, and described how thinly naval forces are srpead in such a vast area of ocean.
He mentioned the close cooperation between the various naval units in the region, and welcomedChina's contribution and its recent moves to cooperate with other forces and become involved in a leadership role.
He emphasised that, as the pirates move further out into theIndian Ocean, naval forces will become more stretched and more vessels will be required. In describing the scale of the problem, Commodore Lowe likened it to policing a corridor stretching from Hong Kong to Beijing and 1,000 miles wide, with widespread crime throughout the area, using only four or five police cars, each capable of travelling at a top speed of 30mph. Not an easy task by any means, but one which the naval forces at his disposal have performed with dedication and a fair degree of success.
Need to participate
Unfortunately, up to 25 per cent of merchant vessels transiting the area still do not participate in the reporting schemes or naval transit arrangements, which leaves them vulnerable to pirate attacks. As Commodore Lowe said: `We can't protect you if we don't know you are there'. Commodore Lowe also said the long-term solution to the problem lay ashore. It was necessary to create stable conditions. good governance and law and order. so that piracy can be combated at its source. and pirates no longer needed to resort to crime to survive.
Simon Church. a former seafarer who is the industry liaison officer with the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR), described best management practices which can be used to deter pirate attacks.
These have been devised in conjunction with the IMO and industry groups, and continue to evolve to meet changing threats.
Among the points he made were that most attacks take place at dawn or dusk, but very few at night. If the crew are vigilant and report the presence of suspicious vessels to the naval authorities promptly, and if physical barriers such as barbed wire are deployed to make it difficult for pirates to board the vessel, naval vessels can arrive in time to deter the pirates.
Superintendent Lawrence Wong, a Hong Kong police officer who is attached to the International Criminal Police Organisation in Lyon, described the work of Interpol in fostering cooperation and information exchange, including maintaining databases on known and suspected pirates and attempting to trace the `money trail' to find out who is financing the pirates and what happens to the ransom money paid to them.
He pointed out that piracy is, by its very nature, a cross-border crime, so that rapid sharing of intelligence is essential in combating it. He also made the point that Interpol's primary function is not to investigate crimes itself, but to coordinate the investigations carried out by the police forces of its member countries.
The Revd Stephen Miller of the Mission to Seafarers in Dubai, described the human element, particularly the stresses on seafarers and their families in the piracy zone, especially when a ship is taken by the pirates. The most important things for those who have survived the ordeal are rest, reassurance and professional counselling. Shipping companies have become much better at providing these in recent years than they were at the start of the piracy crisis.
However, the strain on mariners or their families should not be underestimated. Mr Miller illustrated this with the story of a Russian captain whose ship was captured. Throughout the weeks of captivity, the captain's wife was the main contact point for the wives of other crew members. Every day, in addition to her own worries, she was dealing with the concerns of all the other families, and this affected her deeply. After the captain had been released, and had taken a period of leave, he discovered to his horror that he had again been assigned to a ship operating in the piracy area.
Since he could not afford to turn the job down, but was worried about the effect on his wife, who could not handle the stress, he pretended to his wife that he had been sent to a ship trading in the Atlantic, and even went to the extent of enlisting the help of other mariners to support him in the deception, by reporting to his wife that they had seen him there.
Meanwhile, he was at sea in the Indian Ocean, with not only the fear of capture by pirates occupying his mind for a second time but also the fear that his wife would discover his deception. This man was probably a prime candidate for post traumatic stress disorder, which is common among seafarers who have been victims of a piracy attack.
Seaways January 2010
Unfortunately, in some countries a crew member who declares himself unfit in order to be treated for post traumatic stress is likely to suffer prejudicial discrimination by his employers, and may even be blacklisted from taking up further employment, so many seafarers do not seek help for the condition.
Jon Davies, of the Maersk Training Centre, gave a presentation on ways of protecting ships and their crew. He described `best practice' as carried out by the world's leading shipping companies. He showed many examples of ingenious methods seafarers had used to defend their vessels. Emphasising the need to review safety plans regularly, he also discussed the pros and cons of using a piracy muster station and ways of minimising potential damage during an attack.
Jon Davies pointed out that in addition to small arms, some pirates are now using heavier weapons such as rocket propelled grenades in their attacks, and that several ships have caught fire in piracy incidents. He recommended that flammables should be kept safely stowed away in areas prone to piracy.
He also gave some useful advice on the need to train crews in new methods. In addition to knowing how to repel pirates, they also needed to be trained how to withstand the mental stress of transiting a piracy zone, and how to react if pirates do board the vessel.
In addition to understanding how to defuse a potentially dangerous situation, they needed to know how to avoid confrontation with the pirates, and must be prepared to withstand the rigours of captivity.
Three local speakers described the legal and insurance aspects involved with piracy, and informed delegates of the sensible steps they need to take to ensure that their ships and crews have the best possible protection.
Benson Chu, of Richards Hogg Lindley, made the point that there is no really satisfactory and universally accepted definition of piracy. This can cause problems with underwriters and charterers after the event.
Harry Hirst, of Ince & Co, also touched on this, and pointed out that where piracy involves political, religious or terrorist motives, it may not be considered normal piracy, which is covered by hull and protection and indemnity insurance as a `peril of the seas', but may be considered a war risk and may require additional war risks cover. He expressed the opinion that at the present time piracy in the Indian
Ocean appears to be carried out for purely commercial motives, so it does not require cover against war risks. However he warned that the situation could change. He stressed the importance of owners' checking their various insurance clauses and charterparties to ensure that they are as well protected as possible.
Mr Hirst also mentioned some of the potential pitfalls if a ransom is paid. For example, in some jurisdictions a person paying a ransom may fall foul of money laundering or anti-terrorism legislation. Although this would not appear to be the case in Hong Kong or the United Kingdom, one also has to take into account the laws of the flag state and the state from which the money comes. Finally, he pointed out the need to collect evidence during and after a ship is attacked, in order to be in the best possible position to prosecute pirates and deal with claims.
John Martin of Gard P&I Club gave some valuable insights into what is covered by the clubs. Ransom payments, for example, are excluded, but the cost of counselling the crew after an incident will be covered. Like the majority of speakers, John was against the idea of arming ships' crews or carrying armed private security personnel, pointing out the potential such armed crew or guards would have for involving the ship and club in liabilities. He stated, however, that for the moment, the clubs still cover vessels which use them.
A lively panel discussion followed speaker presentations and the seminar ended with a final address by Kenneth Koo, a committee member of the Hong Kong Ship Owners' Association, who has been chosen to be its next Chairman.
Mr Koo gave a neat summing-up of the points raised by the various speakers, and also expressed the thanks of the Hong Kong shipping community not only to the organisers of the conference and the speakers and delegates who had taken the time and trouble to attend, but also to all the people and organisations engaged in the worldwide fight against piracy.