Sea robberies along the Singapore Straits have hit a four-year high in 2019. A total of 31 sea robberies was reported last year, close to a half-fold increase in the number of incidents since 2016.
In today’s globalised scene, it is often tricky to clearly demarcate and assign the responsibility of ensuring maritime safety to each party or territorial state – fleets and tankers travel globally and across territorial waters to transport goods from one place to another. Fortunately, authorities in the region have agreed to step up on enforcement to tame the brazenness of sea robbers. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre is one example of the regional governments’ joint effort to combat piracy and armed robbery.
What more can organisations do to combat piracy and maritime robberies?
The immediate consequences of sea robberies include injured crew members and financial losses from stolen goods and items. From a long-term perspective, prolonged sea robberies would impede the safe transportation of cargoes from port to destination. In turn, organisations of all sizes (maritime shipping companies in particular) stand to experience disruptions in their supply chain, damage to reputation and even loss of business.
Piracy and maritime robberies have been detrimental and the important role of mitigating against them should not lie solely in the hands of authorities – organisations need to step up and avoid taking a backseat. Some practical steps which organisations can take to complement regional efforts in minimising risks from sea robberies include:
- Ensuring that the shipmaster provides a ship security plan before each voyage. It is recommended that the ship security plan includes various voyage routes that avoid High-Risk Areas (HRA) and that the routes should remain private and confidential to only the shipmaster and the relevant parties in the shore management team. On the other hand, the reporting procedures and policies of the ship which is included in the security plan should be disclosed to the crew.
- Putting in place appropriate ship protection measures. Ship protection measures can be broken down into the following three layers:
- Primary layer of defence – Vigilance of crew at all times to ensure all-round lookout, using razor wire to create a protective barrier around the ship, engage the service of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP)
- Secondary layer of defence – Door hardening, excellent CCTV coverage coupled with fixed searchlights, enhanced bridge protection through the installation of blast-resistance bridge windows, Ship Security Alert System (SSAS)
- Last layer of defence – Internal door hardening, pre-determining a muster point
- Performing due diligence by screening the backgrounds of the crew. It is crucial to ensure that all crew onboard are credible and reliable. Hence, a thorough background screen of the crew is necessary to sift out individuals who may be in collusion with pirates and robbers. The crew should also be qualified with relevant anti-piracy knowledge.
- Inspecting the ship and cargoes before and during sailing. The crew or the assigned third-party ship security officers should be rostered to do the above, paying special attention to high-value and vulnerable articles. Cargoes should be safely and securely stowed throughout the voyage.
- Maintaining close communications with relevant authorities. The shipmaster should, at all times, be situationally aware of reports and warnings provided by the ReCAAP or other authorities regarding piracy and sea robbery. Additionally, the shipmaster ought to check in and report to the organisation’s shore management teams regularly on the status of the voyage as well as any concerns or dangers.
Piracy and maritime robbery is a present and ongoing threat which the littoral state authorities and organisations should work together to combat. Through the sharing of regional intelligence, heightened vigilance and the enforcement of robust ship security measures, the risks of piracy and maritime robbery could be greatly reduced. When necessary, the hiring of experienced and competent PCASP may serve as an asset for organisations to mitigate threats and hostilities from pirates or robbers.