Flagging Concerns

Is the shipping really doing “everything it can” to stave off pirates? While fingers are pointed by some owners at the navies, it seems the blame game is not as straight forward as it may seem.

A concern which has prompted one EUNAVFOR commander to round on the compliance culture among flag States and shipping companies.

Those of you who have been working in the industry for more than a couple of months will no doubt recognise the type of longstanding, shrug of the collective shoulders which having undermined crews, safety and the environment is now undermining the efforts of the naval forces.

Colonel Richard Spencer slammed the shipping industry for all too often failing to take adequate self-protection measures or of failures to assist the co-ordinating naval bodies. Even when ships are in high risk zones they are failing to act properly. According to Spencer, “NATO has taken to phoning up ships within 50 miles of a mothership sighting to warn them of the risk because ships are not ready the NAV warnings they put out. They are sailing blind”.

Perhaps it is worse than that, all too often there is a case of see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil from the wise triumvirate of Company Security Officer, Master and Ship Security Officer.

While the political response is not yet having an effect and with naval resources having to cover such a vast theatre, Spencer stressed that fewer attacks would succeed if ships could hold off the pirates for 45 minutes. “You’ve got to play the game [and] fight harder for your ships. I recognise they are civilians but if it were me in a choice between 45 minutes and eight months held hostage, I’m in for a fight.”

Which is a fair point in some respects, but equally it doesn’t really tell the whole story. The crews aren’t simply taken because they are not “hard” enough – the mistakes happen long before then. It seems that all too many companies are gambling with their crews, and then there is the issue of the standards and of how they are policed.

Are flag States doing enough? Do they even care, know or understand what is going on? There are some who clearly do, and are getting involved and engaging with the security community. While others simply are not.

Spencer states that vessels of some flag States are obviously not implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs), “there is a reason why some flags consistently have the highest number of ships taken. I’m speechless as to why some flag states are not doing more.”

Sadly for many it is more surprising when flags do act.

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