Friday, 5 December 2008

Black Gold – Soul Asylum (1993)

In light of the recent spat of Somali pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden, and particularly that of the Sirius Star, a giant Saudi oil tanker, as well as the Biscaglia, a Liberia-flagged oil and chemical tanker, we turned to Mr. Charles Lawrie, Course Director to The Oxford Princeton Programme’s series of Tanker Ownership, Chartering and Operations courses, for some perspective.

Here’s what he had to say:

"The situation changes daily. Hitherto owners and operators having largely been left to their own devices to determine the best way to deal with the problem. Although there are navy escorts in the region and some convoys have been organized, there is a vast expanse of water to patrol and it is reckoned that in the Gulf of Aden there is one hijacking attempt for every 100 ships passing through and the pirates have gone largely unhindered.

"Some operators have hired unarmed security personnel to deploy, for example, water hoses and audio devises to deter the pirates but these have proved ineffective. Most operators are deeply anti employing armed security personnel as this is only likely to escalate any potential confrontation and increase the danger to the crews on board. Moreover, port authorities generally do not permit entry to commercial vessels with arms on board. Some owners have considered employing their own personal marine military screens but the most effective means of deterring pirates to date is seen to have been to maintain a high speed and high freeboard. Some tanker owners - Maersk and Odfjell - have reportedly said they will re-route vessels around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid transiting the Gulf of Aden but this does not appear to be a widespread move and in any event the Sirius Star was following the Cape route.

"Things may be about to change. Up until now naval warships have only been permitted to fire on pirate vessels only in the event that they come under attack. In the absence of any use of fire power, the pirates have been able to operate with a fair degree of impunity. Indeed a US Navy spokesperson at the time of the capture of the Sirius Star seemed to suggest that such incidents were little more than a financial transaction. Pirates capture ship; owners pay ransom; crew, ship and cargo are released unharmed. At the time of writing it is understood that the EU has changed its stance on the rules of engagement. Starting Monday, they may open fire on suspect craft first. Presumably this would make the mother ships from which many of the pirates operate particularly vulnerable.

"All of this highlights, once again, how much the world depends on shipping but how as an industry it is much forgotten until there is a major incident like an act of piracy or an oil spill. It also highlights some of the commercial and operational issues which face owners and operators - not just in their responses to these events but also in the day to day safe and efficient running of their fleets. Inevitably this means additional costs. As an example, with the current threats off Somalia owners are having to ensure that their insurance policies cover piracy and make the appropriate arrangements if not. These sorts of event touch on the increasing costs which owners in the tanker sector bear in order to meet the exacting standards of operation required, in a commercial environment which at times can be extremely difficult."

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