Too many vessels are still failing to report their whereabouts as a precaution against the expanding reach of Somali pirates.
Military liaison groups are urging ships to report so as to alert counterpiracy naval forces to where the vessels they are meant to protect are spread out across the vast high-risk waters, namely the Gulf of Aden and much of the Indian Ocean.
“There are not enough resources to adequately patrol and adequately provide security, which is why we stress best management practices – including registering,” said Capt Michael Lodge, the officer-in-charge of the Maritime Liaison Office (Marlo), a US Navy group based in Bahrain that promotes registration and other measures to shipping companies in the region.
“It’s risk reduction,” he said. “There’s no reason not to register.”
The main point of contact for ships is the Dubai-based UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which monitors the Gulf of Aden and waters as far south as Tanzania and almost as far east as India. The organisation shares ships’ whereabouts with warships patrolling the waters.
Ships travelling through the Gulf of Aden can also register with Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa, part of the EU Naval Force, one of three joint naval forces that patrol the area.
About three-quarters of vessels travelling through high-risk waters notify either group, according to estimates from the UKMTO and the maritime security centre.
These organisations and two others – Marlo and the Nato Shipping Centre – visit ports and shipping companies to urge them to register, as well as follow other best practises. These include protecting vessels with barbed wire, 24-hour lookouts and a “safe room” where the crew can hide if attacked.
Registering with liaison groups does not, however, guarantee against piracy.
Four of eight recently hijacked ships had registered with Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa, said Lt Cdr Jimmie Adamsson, the spokesman for EU Naval Force.
Ships that report their whereabouts with UKMTO also get captured, said Lt Cdr Susie Thomson, a spokeswoman for the organisation said. She declined to give specifics.
Both Lt Cdr Adamsson and Lt Cdr Thomson said reporting offers more benefits than not reporting.
If a vessel registers, then comes under attack, navies have a better idea about its movements, cargo and crew.
“We know which ships are transiting, when they are transiting and where they are heading. We can therefore more easily provide help in case it is needed,” said Lt Cdr Adamsson.