THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
Costa Concordia from Giglio - click photo for Reuters story
No one (especially mariners) can have missed the extensive news coverage the COSTA CONCORDIA sinking has generated. And the unfortunate event has become a touchstone for many issues: including mariners' conduct, passenger safety, and ship design. 

Thirty people died in the tragedy, and two more are still missing. From "Chicken of the Sea" to environmental concerns; from views from space to the public's trust of mariners (see  "COSTA CONCORDIA From Space" among other COSTA CONCORDIA stories, for background, in the Categories list on the right side of the page), it has been an iconic and arresting story. As a mariner myself, I've felt indirectly involved, and somewhat sullied, by the affair. 

Although the saga is far from over, another step has been taken toward resolution - and it appears that Costa Cruises has taken the high road in this, at least. It was announced last week that the COSTA CONCORDIA salvage contract has been awarded to Titan Salvage and Micoperi Marine  - both established and capable salvage and wreck removal operators (click the photo above to go to Reuters' story, or click here to access a similar story on MSNBC.) 

The gist of the announcement is that the wreck will be salvaged in one piece, re-floated to be towed away for demolition within Italy. The seafloor upon which she has lain since Capt. Francesco Schettino grounded her there on 13 January 2012 will be cleaned and put into condition to restore marine life. Salvage crews and equipment will be based at Civitavecchia, instead of Giglio, to lessen the impact of the operation on the tourist-dependent island. The project will take approximately a year to complete.

"As was the case with the removal of the fuel, we have sought to identify the best solution to safeguard the island and its marine environment and to protect its tourism," outgoing Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said in a statement. He said that the Titan-Micoperi project was the most expensive of those proposed by, among other unsuccessful bidders, Smit and Neri. The base contract would be worth $300 million but "it could also cost more", he said. I think the additional amount for the best and most complete job will prove to be money well spent for Costa Cruises, who well and truly want to put this behind them.

I noted above that the tragedy has become a touchstone for several maritime issues, and obviously one of them - in view of the fatalities in this incident - is passenger safety. In spite of the well-developed cruise industry's apparent focus on passenger safety, there were glaring shortcomings in the COSTA CONCORDIA case. 

At the time of the accident no lifeboat drills had yet been held, which conformed to the legal requirement that drills should be held within 24 hours of sailing - but that was exposed as sadly lacking in this case. And the paralysis on the bridge after contacting the rock - during which passengers were ordered back to their cabins as the ship took water - contributed to the confusing, disorderly evacuation, and may have added to the loss of life. Challenges posed in evacuating today's larger cruise ships, with their many thousands of passengers, were brought dramatically to life.

In March the IMO featured this release on its website, highlighting passenger deaths in several accidents, including COSTA CONCORDIA, MV RABAUL QUEEN, & SHARIATPUR-1, and stating IMO's commitment to passenger safety. 

And on 24 April, EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas delivered a keynote speech at a passenger safety conference in Brussels, setting out a three-pronged approach to addressing passenger safety: 1) promoting industry voluntary measures; 2) intensifying enforcement and implementation; and 3) regulatory measures. (See the Safety4Sea website for a good analysis of the speech and its implications.) 

Just as an aside: it seems that for the media in general, deaths on a cruise ship in the First World seem to count a good bit more than deaths on a ferry in the Third World. I applaud Siim Kallas' observation: "The ultimate aim must be that wherever a passenger boards a passenger ship in the world, safety should be at the highest possible level. Passengers should expect the same safety level standards whether they are crossing for example the Baltic Sea, or sailing on an island daytrip in Asian waters." Amen.

Are you involved in the industry response to these incidents? Have you been a passenger recently? How do you see this issue - Please comment and let us know!

 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
ENRICA LEXIE - click on photo to go to gCaptain story
An important development in the ENRICA LEXIE case (for background see "Fishermen Shot" & "Missing VDR Data" in the Categories column on the right side of the page). 

You'll remember that the armed guards on the Italian ship ENRICA LEXIE, who were Italian military personnel, had shot two Indian fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. Indian authorities arrested the officers accused in the shooting. In the subsequent dustup between Italy and India, ENRICA LEXIE's location at the time of the incident - inside or outside Indian waters - has been argued. Italy has claimed that the incident took place in international waters, and that the officers should be tried in Italy. But India has held the men for trial in Indian courts, saying that the ship was in Indian waters at the time. Because the VDR data was missing from ENRICA LEXIE's data recorder or "black box", neither claim could be verified.

According to this report from gCaptain (or click on the photo to go to that report) the Italian government, in what they specified was an "act of generosity" - not a payment of damages - has agreed with the lawyers representing the relatives of the slain fishermen to pay each of the fishermen's families 10 million rupees (about $192,000US). 

The families have accepted this settlement; but the Indian government still maintains that the arrested officers should be tried in India. The two governments will continue diplomatic negotiations, but the settlement with the fishermen's relatives may relieve some of the tensions surrounding the case.

As noted in the other stories referred to above, this case illuminates a serious downside of the use of armed guards as a primary anti-piracy measure. In a video posted on YouTube recently, featuring armed guards repelling a pirate attack on an unnamed ship (click on "Pirates Up Ante" in the Categories list), it looks as if the guards went straight to shooting as the skiff approached, without any intermediate measures - at least, no other measures were shown in the video. 


Similarly, the guards on ENRICA LEXIE seem to have taken no other actions to warn off the suspected "skiff" that turned out to be an innocent fishing boat, simply firing on them when they got "too close." In the event, the fishermen were probably fatigued and didn't understand that they were being challenged. Had they been given the means to understand that, they might be alive today, the guards would not be under arrest, and Italy and India would not be embroiled in a bitter controversy.

So an important element in using lethal force in protecting the ship from pirates, is also protecting the company, the ship and the individuals involved from prosecution after the fact. 


This can be addressed using a layered defense incorporating best practices as outlined by IMO and national authorities; by having and practicing a plan of defense; and by giving ample warnings to the suspected pirate skiff. 

Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) can overcome the noisy environment in the skiff, where gunshots may not be noticed until someone is hit; and they can be used to transmit warning messages, too. A non-lethal physical defense, such as using a water cannon (click "Piracy Water Cannon" in the Categories list) could be part of a graduated response prior to going to live shooting, when a boat is close aboard. Using guns should be the last resort, and demonstrable as such.

An article on the IDGA website (free account signup required) gives a very thorough treatment of the subject.

Being able to show that measures like these were taken could go a long way toward defending the company and men involved in a court case such as this one. And it goes without saying that crucial evidence, such as the VDR data, should be preserved.

Are you involved in these issues for your company - on the ship, or in the office? Please express your point of view in the Comments!

 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
Adrian Vasquez - Click on photo to go to BBC report

I know most have heard by now about the cruise ship STAR PRINCESS ignoring three fishermen in distress, two of whom subsequently died. Princess Cruises has apologized for the incident, calling it a "breakdown in communication." (Click the photo for a report from the BBC) 

Apparently on 10 March, several of STAR PRINCESS' passengers saw three fishermen in a small boat trying to attract attention. They reported this to an officer, even giving him their glasses to look at the boat. The officer in turn reported this to someone via walkie-talkie - it's not clear to whom - but no action was taken, and the ship sailed on. The fishermen had been adrift since 24 February at that time. One of the three fishermen died that night.

Princess Cruises maintains that the bridge was never informed. (Another source I read indicated that the officer to whom the passengers reported the boat in distress might have been a junior purser, not a navigating officer.)  The passengers, seeing that no action was taken, also reported the boat's position via email to a Coast Guard website. But the boat continued to drift for another two weeks, by which time two of the men were dead of exposure and thirst.

According to the Guardian, on the night of March 10 one of the men, Oropeces Betancourt, 24, died of dehydration. The second, Fernando Osorio, 16, died on March 15 from dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke. The lone survivor, Adrian Vasquez, was picked up by the Ecuadorian Coast Guard after 28 days adrift, near the Galapagos Islands - 1000km from the mainland - kept alive, he said, by a fortunate rainstorm and by eating raw fish. 

Vasquez reportedly told the Associated Press:  "I said 'God will not forgive them'. Today, I still feel rage when I remember."

There are several points here that I see.

First, I've never worked in the cruise industry, so maybe I'm way off base. But I think it's possible that in large, internally-focussed institutions like this cruise ship (and that's one description of what they are, necessarily, as a floating entertainment business) that the traditional seamanship you and I grew up with may get pushed aside. 

COSTA CONCORDIA (see related stories in the Categories listing on the right side of the page) is an example of this: Capt. Schettino, apparently a highly qualified officer, can't have been that poor a seaman. Maybe he was carried away trying to entertain the passengers; and it was said that he and other company Captains had performed that dangerous stunt before, so maybe the company had a safety culture problem - not that that lets Schettino off the hook. But whatever he was thinking, good seamanship was not uppermost in his mind at that moment. Does the high-pressure cruise ship environment make traditional seamanship more difficult?

Second, there is this prescient comment on another blog post from Stanislas Oriot (see "Fatigue Video" in the Categories column to the right of the page). He says, "I think we can link what it seems to be more of a modern problem on ships with our modern life, which is more and more virtual, quick and - maybe I exagerate - inhuman." 

Stanislas, a student in the French merchant marine, was commenting on the problem of fatigue and alertness aboard ships, but I think he's describing a more general issue, as well. In our intensely online-oriented culture, some blurring begins to take place between electronic reality and real life. I've several times had new men on board who got so wrapped up in the screens that they forgot to look out the window! I'm sure this has happened to many other captains. 


The modern electronic bridge (even on tugs these days) can threaten take up a watchstander's attention to the exclusion of physical reality. "If it ain't on my screen, it ain't really real," might sum up the problem. Were the watchstanders on STAR PRINCESS as aware as they might have been of the nature of the traffic around their ship?

Finally, there is a trend I seem to see developing lately: can the greater oversight of the Master made possible by constant satellite communications tend toward reducing his autonomy and authority? One of the reports about the COSTA CONCORDIA emergency response said that Schettino had ten phone calls to and from his office in the hour after the accident. What effect might that have had on his actions - such as the controversial delay in calling Abandon Ship? 


I think that the advent of rapid, continuous communications at sea has already begin to alter the Master's authority. Like many other cultural paradigms, this one is undergoing change in this age of burgeoning, ubiquitous communication. But we might wisely examine these subtle changes before just accepting them! 

The mistake in the STAR PRINCESS case may not directly involve the Captain. But it's his ship, his authority, and his responsibility. Dilute that concept and you've begun to undermine the whole structure of authority and control at sea. 



Many of you out there work on cruise ships, and may be able to speak to these issues out of direct experience. Please let us know what you think!

 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
Click photo to go to Reuters story about pirate weapons
I've been missing for the last week, busy camping with the Boy Scouts and other things. But our friends in the Horn of Africa haven't been napping. 

A predictable development that illustrates the linked nature of war, terrorism, and the arms markets has arisen recently, and I think the following three stories throw it in harsh light.

The first is this YouTube video - which you've probably seen, as it's gone seriously viral - recording the actions of a security team on what looks like a bulk ship. An aggressive attack from two skiffs is repelled by small arms fire from a security team on the ship's bridge. A storm of commentary has arisen over this video - one might, for instance, question the use of pallets for shielding - but even as a former Swift boat crewman in Vietnam, I don't see enough in the video to draw any hard & fast conclusions about tactics or legality. I think most of us are happy to see that the attackers were driven off. In case you haven't seen it, here's the video:

Armed resistance is the only tactic that has shown much success against piracy to date, in spite of recommended non-violent "best practices" involving ship routing, evasive maneuvers, on board secure citadels, etc. This is leading more companies to adopt armed resistance as their defense in pirate waters. Here is a news item telling us that Japanese ships are now to get armed guards:  http://newpacificinstitute.org/jsw/?p=8603  

The use of armed guards, in spite of some notable successes, has also led to some very unfortunate results, as in the ENRICA LEXIE case (click on "Fishermen Shot" & "Missing VDR Data" in the Categories column on the right side of the page). In that instance, two Indian fishermen were shot, the ship's armed team (who were Italian military personnel) mistaking them for pirates. 

Anyone with experience in war knows that such mistakes have to happen in any conflict - it's never a question of "if", only of "when". Friendly fire, civilian casualties and the like will happen no matter how determined forces may be ensure that only the enemy comes under fire. It's human history - and that's one downside of the success armed teams have had. 

Here is another: success by one side in a conflict inevitably leads the other side to seek a way to regain the advantage. In an armed conflict, that usually means acquiring better weaponry. 
According to this story from Reuters  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/12/us-africa-pirates-idUSBRE83B0HO20120412  (or click the photo at the head of the article), Somalian pirates are upping the ante by buying sophisticated Libyan weapons on the black market. 

According to Reuters: "We found that Libyan weapons are being sold in what is the world's biggest black market for illegal gun smugglers, and Somali pirates are among those buying from sellers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries," said Judith van der Merwe, of the Algiers-based African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism. 

"We believe our information is credible and know that some of the pirates have acquired ship mines, as well as Stinger and other shoulder-held missile launchers," (emphasis mine) Van der Merwe told Reuters on the sidelines of an Indian Ocean naval conference.

This is bad news, and augers ill for some ship crews if these weapons are put to use.

Is your ship routing through pirate waters, in East Africa or elsewhere? As someone on the front lines, we want your opinion - please comment!
 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
Crew of XIANGHUAMEN wave after being freed - click photo to go to ChinaDaily story
Iran's anti-piracy forces have freed a second ship (Click on MV Eglantine in the Categories column to the right of the page for the story of the release of the first ship, about a week ago) and in the process have captured a long-sought pirate leader. This story from the very good gCaptain site covers the ground as well as anything I've been able to find: http://gcaptain.com/iranian-navy-frees-ship-somali/?44129  

The Chinese ship XIANGHUAMEN had been in transit to the Iranian port of Imam Khomeini and was taken by nine pirates about 45 miles off Bandar Jask in the Gulf of Oman, somewhat out of usual piracy waters. The crew shut down power and took refuge in a citadel, but were subsequently forced out and taken hostage. The pirates forced the Chief Engineer, Li Shengmeng, to restore power and told the Master, He Feng, to head for Somalia.


China's embassy officials in Iran asked that the necessary actions be taken to release the vessel and its crew. Two Iranian warships began to shadow the Chinese freighter, causing the pirates to line the ship's crew up on each side of the bridge and to threaten to harm them if the warships didn't depart. The Iranians refused. The pirates had told the crew to say there were 22 pirates, but another ship in the area, having listened to the radio traffic, entered the conversation and asked in Chinese - which the hijackers did not understand - for the actual number of pirates on board. "In this way we finally sent related information that helped the later rescue operations successfully to the outside world," said Chief Engineer Li.


Li told the pirates that he had to go to the engine room to check the equipment, and gathered four other sailors there to discuss evacuation. While there, he received a call from the Chief Mate, Chen Jian, who told him that the Iranian Navy had requested that the crew cut power and stand by for an offensive. When the Iranian warship began to exchange gunfire with the pirates, Li and the four sailors shut down power and jumped into the sea, swimming toward the Iranian warships. 

The pirates demanded that the remaining crew members restart the engine, but with Li and the others gone, this was impossible. After being beaten by the pirates for being unable to restart the engine, Captain He also jumped into the sea. Soon after this, the pirates threw their weapons into the sea and surrendered to the Iranian Navy.

Li Shengming was hailed as a hero in this article from the China Daily: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/09/content_15005271.htm - and it also says that the crew were awarded $10,000 each by the ship's owner for "bravery against pirates." Well earned, I'd say.

This story from African Review tells of the capture of Mohamed Garad, leader of the pirates who took XIANGHUAMEN and an old thorn in the side of anti-piracy forces in the region: http://www.africareview.com/News/Most+wanted+Somali+pirate+seized/-/979180/1383504/-/14bpryj/-/index.html   He's described in the story as "an old, experienced hand and a role model in the piracy world," whose status among pirates was compared to "Carlos the Jackal" in the crime world. Garad has been involved in hundreds of hijack cases in the Horn of Africa region, so his capture is very good news.

Finally, here's a YouTube video of a news conference held by Iranian Admiral Habibollah Sayyari from PressTV, an Iranian outlet (this video is also featured on gCaptain) in which he states that Iran currently has 19 vessels and 11,000 men involved in anti-piracy operations:


Do you have any first-hand accounts of a passage through these waters? Please let us know about it in the Comments!
 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
VIKING LADY - click photo to go to DNV story
She's already LNG-powered. She's already producing power by means of a fuel cell, boasting a successful record over the past three years of 18,500 operating hours. But she's not done innovating yet! Eidesvik Offshore's VIKING LADY, as part of the FellowSHIP project, continues to break new ground. 

In addition to her other efficient engineering features, she will soon have installed a battery pack to allow hybrid operation, much like a hybrid atomobile (or Foss' Hybrid Tugs: http://www.foss.com/environment_hybridtug.html)


According to Bjørn-Johan Vartdal, DNV’s project manager, “We know that the hybrid system will reduce the energy consumption. When operating, for example, on dynamic positioning, there will be a major fuel saving potential. When in harbour, too, the ship should be able to operate on the fuel cell and its battery power alone, which will reduce emissions significantly. For environmentally sensitive areas, this will be an essential benefit. Additional benefits are related to reductions in machinery maintenance costs and in noise and vibrations.”

This is all great stuff, but I think the key to selling it to the industry in general is the reduced fuel consumption. Because of today's high fuel costs, Return On Investment for VIKING LADY's hybrid installation is calculated to be less than two years! After that, Eidesvik's baby will not only be remarkably clean environmentally, but will be saving her owners a pretty penny - 20% to 30% -  on fuel costs. As project manager Vartdal noted, there should be significant savings on maintenance, too. Impressive. 

One of the grumblings you're liable to hear about environmentally-friendly initiatives is that they're too expensive and not suitable to the present financially-constrained business climate. But here's one I think can be firmly presented as a money-saver. A two-year ROI is shorter than many other upgrades, and a company running a fleet of vessels like this should have a competitive advantage in lower energy costs and longer working time between overhauls. That's sound business sense.

DNV is heading project FellowSHIP, comprising DNV, Eidesvik, and Wartsila. The earlier installation of the fuel cell was also part of the FellowSHIP project. Going ahead, the project will carefully measure the hybrid system's energy-saving potential, and the hybrid system will be modeled in detail. DNV is using the project to develop class rules for battery-powered ships.

Click on the photo above to go to the DNV story for more details. Well worth a read!

I've never been able to work with a powerplant like this. Have you? Can you tell us what your experience has been? Have an opinion? Please respond with a comment!


 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
MV EGLANTINE - click on picture to go to her page at VesselTracker.com

I guess most of us have heard about MV EGLANTINE, the Iranian sugar ship just freed from pirates by Iranian commandos. Stories like this are always good news, provided things went well with little or nothing in the way of casualties, and that seems to have been the case this time. 

Here's the story of her capture, on 26 March: http://www.somaliareport.com/index.php/post/3154/Somalia_Pirates_Hijack_MV_EGLANTINE_  She was taken off Hoarafushi Island in the Maldives - the first ship taken in Maldive waters. She was carrying a load of Brazilian sugar for delivery in Iran, and the ship is also Iranian-owned. Here are some more statistics about her: http://convenientflags.blogspot.com/2012/03/eglantine-sdn-list-ship-hijacked.html

The crew consisted of several nationalities - including 11 Iranians, 10 Filipinos, one Indian, and one Ukrainian, according to this report:  http://un.ua/eng/article/383614.html  Also, here are reports from a Philippine source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/253735/pinoyabroad/hijacked-ship-with-10-pinoy-crew-members-released-by-somali-pirates-mdash-dfa  and a Ukranian one: http://un.ua/eng/article/383614.html  Obviously, these seamen's families must be overjoyed to know that their men are released and on their way home! Although you'll have noticed that the Philippine story above said that at least 57 Filipino seamen on other ships were still being held by pirates.

News reports conflicted at first - some saying she had been ransomed - but the consensus now is that she was stormed by Iranian naval forces. One story quotes an Iranian admiral as saying that after "48 hours of intensive fighting" all crew had been freed without harm, and 13 pirates taken captive: http://www.micportal.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7006:iranian-bulk-carrier-eglantine-released&catid=25:security-measures&Itemid=38   The admiral said the pirates would be turned over to Iranian judiciary for trial. The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship, MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen. 

Props to the Iranian Navy for this operation - this time they liberated one of their own ships, but the annals of anti-piracy operations contain plenty of examples of one nation's naval forces releasing or preventing the capture another nation's ships and men. It's all for one, one for all under these conditions! That at least benefits seamen of all nationalities.

This report notes that at the same time as the MV EGLANTINE incident, another ship was attacked but her onboard security team returned fire and drove the attackers off: http://www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Somalia_27/Somalia_Somali_pirates_release_Iranian_cargo_ship.shtml   The skiff was stopped by an EU warship, FS Aconit, but the men in the skiff were not carrying weapons at that time, so they were treated for injuries sustained from the security team's warning shots. The story doesn't say whether they were subsequently released, but that's often the case.

These are only news stories, but you may be there. Are you in a ship passing through piracy waters? How has your ship coped - what protective measures have you taken? Have you, or someone you've known, been taken prisoner? Please help us to understand the piracy issue from your personal point of view!

 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Some time ago we featured information about the building of Shell's beautiful new icebreaking AHTS AIVIQ along with a photo of Shell's existing ice-class supply vessel NANUQ with whom AIVIQ will partner in Arctic ops. (For the earlier story, see Icebreaker AIVIQ in the Categories section on the right side of the page) 

AIVIQ means "Walrus" in Inupiaq; the new ship was named by a 12-year-old girl in Nuiqsut, Alaska. The new AHTS will work with the previously-built NANUQ or "Polar Bear", an ice-class supply vessel also built by Edison Chouest. Poking around the excellent gCaptain site tonight http://gcaptain.com/water-shells-aiviq-video/  I saw a link to this video of the ship in action. 

AIVIQ was launched on 24 March and is now undergoing sea trials. She'll be working in the Chukchi Sea soon. Truly a landmark vessel, and as Arctic exploration gains momentum, we should see more. 

I've always had a strong attraction to icebreakers and the Polar regions, but never was able to satisfy it by working up there - I never even got to Alaska! This would be a memorable way for some seaman to satisfy that itch.

How would you like to be her lucky skipper?
 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Something I ran across yesterday - this video is from a company producing a remote-controlled water cannon for use against pirate skiffs. I don't know what the flow rating might be - from my personal experience with FiFi-1 units I'd say between 1,000 - 2,000 GPM, but it's just a guess - but it looks capable enough to seriously incommode a small boat.  

The system is touted as portable - perhaps it's meant to be leased or rented, mounted on a ship for transit through a danger zone and then sent back. I might not want it as my sole reliance, but it would certainly let a Captain "reach out and touch someone" in a potentially non-lethal manner. The FiFi-1 cannons I'm acquainted with can be very destructive, so you might want to use this with caution if you were concerned with human life. Looks as though it would dampen their ardor! 

Do you have any experience with anything similar? What other anti-pirate measures have you seen? Please let us know about it in Comments!

Post Edit: Here is a link to a good op-ed piece by Rhys Clift on Safety4Sea: http://www.safety4sea.com/analysis/88/132/somalian-piracy:-the-price-of-a-life

His subject is ransoms, and the talk lately from some quarters about preventing their payment - "the price of a life". I think his critique is right on the money - in the absence of alternative ways of safely freeing captive mariners, prohibiting ransom payments is irresponsible. Give it a read and see what you think.

You're on the front lines, sailors - please let us know your thoughts about this!
 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Picture
Click photo to go to Safety4Sea mothership story
Below see a video report on the European Union's recent deliberations with regard to piracy response. It's no news, of course, that EU will expand its operations to include "coastal territory and internal waters," widely interpreted to mean helicopter gunship attacks on pirate vessels inshore and on the beach, as well as land vehicles identified as being under pirate control. See this link to one of the many news stories covering this landmark decision:
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/23/somalia-pirate-mission-expanded-eu

I'm heartened to see the world community's concentration shifting to the Somali mainland, even if it's only military attention at the moment. Seaborne responses, such as armed guards, can work - but can also bring significant costs and unintended consequences of their own (see Fishermen Shot and Missing VDR Data in the Categories section at the right of the page). And much of the work being done by the international naval forces in the region only amounts to "catch & release" of the pirates - since prosecuting and punishing captured pirates is often impossible (click on the photo above for a typical recent story from the Safety4Sea website; also, click on Pirates Ransom Their Own in the Categories section).


As it gradually becomes accepted wisdom that no solution can be implemented without dealing with the situation ashore, we'll move closer to a real elimination of the piracy threat. My own strongly held opinion is that when the world begins to move beyond military action, and comes together with effective action to help Somalia regain social, economic & political viability, then piracy in that part of the world will cease to be a threat to world shipping and to the world's seamen. 

I've read a lot about the Horn of Africa region, and have visited there myself (many years ago). I see no evidence that Somalians have enthusiastically chosen piracy as a way of life. Rather - with the collapse of their political and social institutions - Somalians lost the power to police their  own coasts. That led other nations' fishing fleets to trespass with impunity on Somali territorial waters. The first Somali pirates arose as a home-grown self-defense measure against this illegal exploitation. You can't blame them much for that. 


Developments since, of course, have since taken a more sinister turn. The threat to world trade, gradually extending itself into terrorist connections, does need to be dealt with. Almost as urgent to the outside world should be victimization inside Somalia, as her people suffer terrorism, starvation, and social & cultural destruction.

Many in Somalia itself long to see piracy become a thing of the past. Bring back the opportunity for a decent life to ordinary Somalians, and piracy will disappear. 

So these latest developments seem turning in the right direction, especially as they move past offensive operations to nation-building for Somalia. Pray for that - it's what will finally end the problem!

Have any experience in the region? Please share your view point with us! Piracy has become more common elsewhere, as well; has it affected you? Please let us know in the Comments section!

Here's the EPP video: