I spotted this YouTube video on the Naftrade site this morning. If you've wanted to see the faces and hear the voices of Somali pirates - and glean some idea of how their minds work - the video is helpful, though there's nothing fundamentally new here. It's by Journeyman TV, which has done some previous work in Somalia and some interesting work in hot spots around the world.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of everything presented, but it does give us a feeling for life in that desperate place, and covers piracy from several points of view - pirates as prisoners, pirates operating freely, and government officials who may or may not be working with pirate forces. 

It's always interesting to see people doing what they do, even when they know they're on camera. Their reaction to that, too, tells you something about them. So watch and enjoy!

Have you been to Somalia, or the region lately? Can you shed light from your experience on what's presented here? Please feel free to share your observations with the rest of us!
Shipowners form human SOS - click for MarineLink story
The 21st Asian Shipowners Forum, meeting in Australia, had piracy at the top of their agenda. To illustrate this, and show their support for the SaveOurSeafarers campaign, the owners got together to form the gigantic SOS shown in this photo (click the photo to go to the story on

 The Forum went strongly on record that not enough is being done to combat piracy. “Not only are these dangerous Somali pirates free to roam the Indian Ocean at will attacking and hijacking ships, they have not spared ships anchored in sovereign waters. Also, Somali pirates may serve as a strong inspiration for criminals in other states,” stated Mr. Patrick Phoon, ASF Safe Navigation & Environment Committee Chairman. “The safety and welfare of our seafarers and their families must remain of utmost importance. Discounting the economic cost of anywhere between US$3.5 and US$8 billion a year, we cannot ignore the lasting physical and psychological trauma suffered by our seafarers at the hands of these merciless outlaws.”

The Committee recognized that adoption of the Best Management Practices for Protection Against Somalia-Based Piracy (BMP4) were insufficient, by themselves, to protect shipping from piracy.

They also supported calls for the UN to establish an anti-piracy military task force, which had been proposed earlier by the Round Table of International Shipowners Associations (RTisa) - see this story from gCaptain for details of that plan. Basically, it calls for a dedicated UN force to deploy on ships passing through pirate-infested areas, and would apparently cover ALL ships, extending to everyone the protection private armed guards have provided so successfully to date, for those who have been willing to pay.

The Forum is the latest group to call for more to be done. But the world - aside from shipping interests who are directly affected, and their representative countries - remains fundamentally indifferent. Being human, everyone sees this through his own lens, so shipowners, for instance, tend to see the effect on business first - though to their credit they are concerned with seafarers' welfare too. Their support for SOS is appreciated!

But we still have seafarers who have been held for long periods, and seafarers who have been mistreated, tortured, or killed. Don't forget the MV Iceberg I sailors - 24 men who have been held for over two years, with one despairing crewman victim of suicide - who have been basically ignored since their shipowner went out of business and abandoned them. Their fate shows the lack of any useful mechanism for helping victims of piracy, aside from direct payment of ransom by the company involved. Surely the world can find better ways to deal with this problem, and to free the hundreds of hostages being held right now in unjust, abusive confinement.

Help raise piracy's profile by taking action yourself - support SOS, keep your friends informed, and do all you can to educate folks who are not directly involved in our industry, and who may not appreciate the magnitude of the problem. I know we'd all want somebody working on our side if we were being held hostage.

And tell us here what you are doing, so we can help, too. Thanks!

Heavy lift MAERSK TEXAS - click photo for gCaptain story
We just covered EU NAVFOR's attack on Somali pirate bases ashore near Haradheere, Somalia (see the last post), expressing the hope that pressure on shore  might put a crimp in pirate operations at sea. And well it might, eventually.

But the pirates' area of operations remains very large, as using motherships they cover a vast area that stretches from the Seychelles and the Maldives to the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea. 

A recent attack making the news took place near the Strait of Hormuz, and highlighted both the pirates' extended operating range and the effectiveness of embarked security teams. (Click the various "Enrica Lexie" and "Pirate" or "Piracy" links in the Categories list on the right side of the page for background information.)

MAERSK TEXAS was attacked in the Gulf of Oman (see map at bottom of post) by "numerous skiffs" that converged on the ship. The crew undertook action according to their Vessel Security Plan and fired warning shots. It's claimed the pirates then fired on the ship, when the armed guards returned fire, driving the skiffs off. The excellent gCaptain site has a good story with an exclusive response from Maersk - or click on the photo above to access that.

Click photo to go to The Lede report about Iranian Navy assistance
MAERSK TEXAS also sent out a distress message, which was responded to by Iranian Navy units in the area. According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, “Upon arrival of Iranian forces the pirates who had attacked the American ships aboard some speed boats had to flee the scene.” The NY Times blog The Lede has a good wrap-up of that angle. 

Maersk and a spokesman for Combined Task Force 151, LCDR Mark Hankey, were unable to confirm the Iranian contribution, but it would not be surprising given broad anti-piracy cooperation in the region. Iran and the US, bitter enemies in other arenas, have cooperated to help each other in past piracy incidents. The Iranian Navy also stormed and freed MV XIANGHUAMEN recently.

So, embarked armed guards remain un-scored upon versus the pirates - although, according to one source, the pirates are upping their game with more sophisticated weapons (click "Pirates Up Ante" in the Categories list). I've read that about 40% of ships passing through the area off East Africa now use armed guards. 

It's possible that a campaign of shore-directed attacks, as the EU seems set to pursue, could sap pirate gangs' reserves and their ability to operate at long distances. But as long as the pirates' range of operations remains as large as it is, naval units will have difficulty meeting the threat. That leaves armed guards as the only entirely successful strategy deployed to date. 

And as the ENRICA LEXIE saga amply shows, properly implementing armed guards within a viable security response plan is vitally important if they are not to do nearly as much harm as good. It sounds as though Mearsk has got that part right!

As always, we want to hear from you, especially if you're on the scene or have passed through pirate waters recently. Please comment and let us know what you've seen and heard!

Click image for EU NAVFOR website
European Union forces have finally carried out their threatened action ashore in Somalia, attacking several pirate skiffs and other equipment near Haradheere. There are many reports available, but as usual gCaptain has the best wrapup and some unique interviews with Somali eyewitnesses.

Marine Log gives the plain-vanilla industry view; Lloyd's story goes into more detail and draws out the fear that hostages will be harmed in retaliation, which is the first thing that occurred to me. About 300 seamen are hostage in Somalia - most of them currently being held aboard their ships. 

What's to keep the pirates from holding hostages ashore at their equipment dumps, or - more worryingly - selecting individuals for abuse or killing as a response to attacks? 

Well, nothing, really - so this could be the start of a high-stakes game of chicken in which seamen stand to be hurt. 

On the other hand, taking the longer view, any action that cripples pirate activity would spare future sailors from having to share the fate of those now in captivity. 

This could be the start of larger operations ashore to attack pirate activity at its source - and, if successful, perhaps eliminate the threat. We'll have to wait and see how each side plays the game - and I'm pulling for EU NAVFOR.

Are you in the area - or have talked with someone who is? Please comment and let us know what's going on!

Everyone will remember the story of Adrian Vasquez (click "Fishermen Ignored" and "Star Princess" in the Categories column on the right side of the page for earlier stories & links). 

The 18-year-old Panamanian and two friends, 16 & 24, were out fishing, trying to make some money after Adrian lost his job at a hotel. The motor in their small fishing boat died, and the trio drifted offshore. After more than two weeks, with one of the boys on the point of death, they saw the 109,000GT cruise ship STAR PRINCESS steaming by and desperately began to wave their shirts to indicate their distress. But STAR PRINCESS never acknowledged their presence. 16-year-old Fernando Osario died that night, and 24-year-old Oropeces Betancourt died five days later. (I've seen this order reversed in some stories - however it happened, they were both dead shortly after being passed by the cruise ship.)

Two weeks after sighting the cruise ship the lone survivor, Adrian, was picked up near the Galapagos Islands by Ecuadorian Coast Guard. He was 1000Km from the coast they had set out from a month before.

AIS track of STAR PRINCESS and track of FIFTY CENTS as it drifted
The green line in the image at left is the track of  STAR PRINCESS; the ragged red line is the track followed by the three young men as they drifted westward in their disabled boat FIFTY CENTS. 

As you can see, it was an amazing coincidence that FIFTY CENTS passed close to the cruise ship at all, in that vast expanse - and it must have been a crushing disappointment to have been ignored and left to die. 

Princess Cruises contends that they weren't ignored on purpose, and it seems very likely to me that that they were not - no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine a bridge team failing to stop for a vessel in distress! The breakdown seems to have been in communication between the crew member to whom the passengers reported - now identified as a sales agent for the cruise line - and the bridge.

The Captain claims that neither he nor his bridge team were actually notified, although I did read one story in which a passenger claimed that the crew member had communicated with someone via walkie-talkie, and had been told that he was talking to the bridge. But apparently the message never got there. 

I also wonder what the lookouts were doing! I've never been on a ship's bridge where something like that wouldn't have been reported and evaluated. Of course, on many ships it's common practice for no lookouts to be posted during daylight hours, and that may have been the case here.

The sole survivor Adrian has filed suit in a Florida court.  This story from International Business Times brings us up to date on the latest developments. 

Another article from World News Australia shows the international interest in the story, and focuses on the witnesses' accounts - play the video on that page for interviews with them. The witnesses are insistent that they informed a member of the crew; they are distressed that the information they provided wasn't acted on, and sound as though they will be testifying against the cruise line in the trial. 

Finally, in this blog post from Cruise Law News, a lawyer experienced in admiralty law predicts that Princess will try to get the case dismissed rather than let a Florida jury hear the emotional testimony in the case. He points out the high international interest in the case and the damage it causes to cruising's image, coming right after the COSTA CONCORDIA incident.

Whatever happens next, I find myself firmly in Adrian Vasquez' corner. To imagine apparent salvation sailing serenely out of sight reminds me of a horrific image that sometimes haunted me at sea - the image of a man fallen overboard, watching his ship sail off without him. It's the kind of thought that gives a seaman nightmares, and Vasquez and his friends had to experience it. So as far as I'm concerned, he deserves anything he can get in the way of settlement - and the cruise industry has another safety issue to address.

Do you know the cruise industry? Can you give any insight into how such a thing could happen? Please comment and tell us what you think!

A Royal Navy team boarding a pirate skiff on the Somali coast. Photographer: Rex Features via AP Images - click photo for Bloomberg story
You'll remember a short time ago that a video clip of a security team repelling a pirate attack went viral (click "Pirates Up Ante" in the Categories column). Although it excited a lot of comment, no one knew what ship it took place on, or who the security team was. Now, thanks to Bloomberg, we have some information, though there's more I'd like to know.

The ship was AVOCET belonging to Eagle Bulk Shipping, an American company. The security company has been identified as Trident Group of Virginia Beach, VA. The Bloomberg story tells us a lot we didn't know previously, but doesn't get into the weeds with regard to warning shots or escalation of force (EOF), because neither the shipping company nor the security firm would comment. The head of the security firm did say that he was "absolutely" satisfied that his company's operating procedures were legal. 

There are a dozen ways to look at this situation, based on the video - but we can't really make any informed judgment without knowing more. For instance, EOF: were other defense measures taken prior to the shooting in the video? None were shown. If those were *warning shots* then I hope no one ever tries to warn me of something that way. 

The Trident representative also said that an AK-47 round narrowly missed one of his men, indicating that the pirates were shooting back. In the video, with all the shooting from the ship's end, any shots from the skiff are drowned out, so we can't tell. And unless someone comes clean with a complete, unvarnished account of what really went down that day, we'll never know.

Most people I've talked to about this video admit to similar misgivings. But for all that, they feel that the pirates had it coming and wouldn't have been hurt if they hadn't been there. As a seaman, I tend to that view myself. But there's an unorganized, ad hoc tenor to the action in the video that looks like potential trouble to me. 

I was a patrol boat crewman in Vietnam; as a military unit we operated under clear orders with regard to escalation of force. We never started in with gunfire, although we eventually had to resort to it more than once. 

It seems to me that AVOCET's security guards (or the shipping company) should have included fixed EOF procedures and a few non-lethal warning measures in their arsenal - something like the water cannon shown in an earlier post (click "Piracy Water Cannon" in the Categories column) or a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) that could penetrate the loud background noise in the skiff. Warning shots don't warn if the subject can't hear them. Deadly force should always be the last resort, not the first.

Fishermen may be in a similar type of boat, and fishermen may even carry guns. Unless you're sure you're dealing with pirates, you may end up killing innocent fishermen, as in the ENRICA LEXIE case (for background, see "Fishermen Shot", "Enrica Lexie Settlement" and "Enrica Lexie Released" in the Categories column). A sloppy response to a perceived pirate threat could land you in serious legal trouble.

The difference between my Navy experience and operations like these is oversight. We were under constant oversight, so far as our communications could provide it, and our operations also had to be reported in detail after the fact. Not to say that's a perfect or even a satisfactory system - atrocities happen in every war in spite of oversight. 

But in the AVOCET case, we have the opposite of oversight - all concerned have clammed up tight. Maritime's governing authorities have no idea what went on. And this attitude is apparently widespread - according to the Bloomberg article some armed guard contracts explicitly require the shipowner not to report an attack. 

This lack of transparency is bound to bite someone in the nether parts sooner or later. One could argue that it already has bitten ENRICA LEXIE's owners, as well as robbing two Indian families of their breadwinners. 

The recently-issued IMO guidelines for armed guards are a start, but are non-binding, and regulations governing these sorts of things usually take years to be developed. Maybe the flag states could take it up individually, because lack of direction in this area could be costly. Armed guards have proven to be an effective anti-piracy measure; poor implementation and lack of transparency should not be allowed to diminish that effectiveness.

In the meantime, private security companies - along with their customers - might do well to agree on basic principles of conduct and EOF - and to be more transparent about their operations, not less.

As usual, we want to hear from you! Are you on the scene - have you worked on one of the 42,500 ships that transit the region yearly? Then you probably have strong feelings on this topic. Let us know how you see it!

Click on photo to go to blog
I wanted to let everyone know that I've started a new blog, focussing specifically on LNG and LNG shipping, on the WordPress blogging platform. It's called, and that's the URL, too: I hope you'll click on over and have a look. 

The Chain Locker blog will stay right here, and will continue to highlight general maritime interests; only (I hope) getting better in response to your feedback! 

And I especially encourage you to comment and criticize the new blog, if you feel like helping to shape and focus it - being brand new new, it can really benefit from your informed questions and good suggestions. I want it to become a reliable source of information about LNG, and an interesting forum for discussion on that topic. I need your help! So don't be shy.

You can leave comments here or over at the new blog - I'll respond to them either way. Please let me know what you think! And thanks.

Abandoned ICEBERG 1 - click photo for gCaptain story
I was reading the KENNEBEC CAPTAIN blog last night, and was struck with something I already knew, but had carelessly allowed to drop out of my consciousness: the shameful fate of the crew of ICEBERG 1. These longest-held pirate captives marked their 2-year anniversary over a month ago. 

There are 23 of them now, although there had been 24 - one committed suicide in October 2010. They are being held in cramped, unhealthy conditions aboard ship, have been tortured by some accounts, and are being provided little food and unclean water. Reportedly (and understandably) several are suffering from acute psychological issues. 

A good summary of their situation appeared a month ago in the very good gCaptain blog on the second anniversary of their captivity. As the IBN video above reports, almost nothing is being done for the men or their families. The company that had owned the ship, Azal Shipping and Cargo, has gone out of business, abandoning the ship and crew to their fate. 

A story on IBN Live marked the anniversary of their captivity, but didn't suggest any action for concerned parties to take. And apparently the national governments of the various crewmembers - they are from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan & Philippines - have done little or nothing.

The Kennebec Captain blog post expressed hope that other maritime blogs would take up the story and bring it to wider attention. This justly stung me when I read it, because that's exactly what I've failed to do, although I have been aware of the situation. It's so easy to ignore someone else in trouble - a little righteous indignation, but then you move on to the next item of interest. I checked on Twitter, and found one post! But their suffering and despair, unlike the world's attention, goes on.

So I'd like to state that I'm going to do what I can to bring this story to people's attention. I can tweet about it, mention and link to it in maritime forums, and link to stories about the situation here on the blog. Will you also do what you're able to do? Imagine yourself in their situation. Perhaps we can make enough noise to mitigate their conditions and let them know that they're not forgotten.

It's criminal that these men have fallen through the cracks and have been left to rot, simply because the usual avenue to freedom - ransom paid by their employer - is no longer available. Please take action! And let the rest of us know what you're doing - it will encourage and inspire other avenues of action. God bless these poor men!

ENRICA LEXIE under Indian arrest - click photo to go to BBC story
Another step has been taken in the the ENRICA LEXIE episode, as the Supreme Court has decided that the ship can depart Indian waters. Italy has given assurances that any crew members, and the ship itself, will be made available to Indian authorities as and when they may require them. Click the photo at left for the BBC story, and see another story from Deccan Herald, and also from Economic Times. And finally, for another slant from the victims' point of view, see this article from Asian Age

In good news for some captive seafarers: another Italian ship, the ENRICO LEVOLI, which had been hijacked about four months ago, has been ransomed and released. This story from Safety4Sea gives an eyewitness account from one victim. As in another similar case (click "Piracy Survivor Alex" in Categories on the right side of the page) a terrifying moment for the victims came right after the ransom was paid - when the hostages wondered whether they'd be released, or killed - now that the pirates no longer needed them alive. However, all ended well and the men are going home to their families. 

I was interested to note that in the ENRICO LEVOLI case the crew might have been saved from capture if they'd been able to mount some resistance to delay the pirate takeover. A Turkish helicopter, dispatched in response to the Captain's distress call, arrived on scene just twenty minutes after the hijackers took control of the ship. 

Maritime Connector has an interesting article about evolving tactics among Somalian pirates. After a period during which they used captured vessels as mother ships, the pirates are beginning to go back to using dhows. Captured vessels are well-known and more easily tracked, especially as the world's navies intensify their efforts in the region. But a dhow, like thousands of other dhows used by local people for fishing and transport, can provide obscurity through sheer ubiquity. Among so many dhows, which one is the pirate? Guerrilla warfare on the sea - it was effective in Vietnam, as I can testify.

Tanker Operator gives a good rundown of piracy hotspots worldwide, including Somalia, Nigeria, and Southeast Asia. Tactics vary between regions. For instance, recently a tug was hijacked in the South China Sea, the crew robbed and set adrift, and the containers on the barge the tug was towing were then opened and rifled for goods. This is a common tactic in that region. In Nigeria, by contrast, robbery or kidnapping are more usual. And we know that Somalian pirates usually take control of the ship and crew. 

Not fun in any case. And piracy seems to be gaining momentum - often driven (at least in the case of African piracy) by social disintegration and poverty in the countries the pirates call home. Nothing excuses pirate violence, which is also on the increase - but a neglected, uncultivated field will grow weeds. . . And we know that military force hasn't stemmed the tide.

Many of us see the piracy problem from a distance - but you may be sailing through affected waters right now, or know someone who is! Please comment with your point of view: on defensive tactics, causes, remedies, responses - we want to know what you think!

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!

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!

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!

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:  

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  (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!
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:  

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: - 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:   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!
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:

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!

MV EGLANTINE - click on picture to go to her page at

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:  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:

The crew consisted of several nationalities - including 11 Iranians, 10 Filipinos, one Indian, and one Ukrainian, according to this report:  Also, here are reports from a Philippine source:  and a Ukranian one:  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:   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:   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!

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  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?