x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Shipowners adopt art of deception to safeguard vessels

Shippers must increasingly decide between hiring armed guards and using less dangerous tactics to deter Somali pirates.

What is the connection between mannequins, Kevlar blankets and electric fencing?

They are all recommended equipment for shipping companies to reduce the threat of being hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. "Well-constructed dummies placed at strategic locations around the vessel can give an impression of greater numbers of people on watch," said a report by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, an oil industry organisation based in London.

As piracy increases, shipping companies increasingly face a choice between non-violent options, such as buying dummies, and hiring armed guards that can cost up to US$100,000 (Dh367,295) for each transit off the Somali coast.

Pirates are using ransom payments to acquire more weapons, while shipowners have begun employing armed guards, said the Actuarial Profession, a risk assessment organisation in the UK.

"This situation shows no sign of abating and the trend is expected to continue, with potential consequences to the safety of ships' crew," the organisation said.

Hiring armed guards for transiting the Gulf of Aden's high-risk area can cost $25,000 to $100,000, the group estimated, although doing so could result in lower insurance premiums. The UK shipping publication Lloyd's List said last month shipowners were ignoring official recommendations and were hiring armed guards.

"Shipowners are increasingly taking security into their own hands, rather than relying on the world's navies," the report said. "Hiring professional security personnel is both a more effective way of protecting ships from attack, and also cheaper than other evasive measures, [shippers] say."

The number of hostages held by pirates globally has doubled in each of the past two years, according to the Actuarial Profession.

Costs related to the hijackings include the delivery of ransom payments, negotiation costs, repair costs and earnings losses.

Piracy cost the shipping industry more than $1 billion last year, the Actuarial Profession said. Even companies that manage to avoid hijackings are feeling the effects of piracy. Insurance costs have skyrocketed.

Munich Re, a major insurance company, estimated that kidnap and ransom premiums rose tenfold from 2008 to 2009.

It did not disclose exact figures. The rising threat of piracy has attracted the interest of defence companies. BAE Systems is developing a technology called laser distraction. The laser can serve as a visual warning at 2km and distract pirates at shorter distances, said Roy Evans, the head of laser photonic systems at BAE Systems.

"The effect is similar to when a fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun.

"The glare from the laser is intense enough to make it impossible to aim weapons like AK47s or [rocket-propelled grenades], but doesn't have a permanent effect," Mr Evans said.