Herd immunity

Under BMP, ships transiting the HRA off east Africa should register with MSCHOA and fill in a comprehensive registration form. A recent update from the military provided an interesting breakdown of some of the statistics that have been disclosed by the 80% of ships that do register. It seems, for whatever reason, that a constant 20% don’t.

Herd immunity

Under BMP, ships transiting the HRA off east Africa should register with MSCHOA and fill in a comprehensive registration form. A recent update from the military provided an interesting breakdown of some of the statistics that have been disclosed by the 80% of ships that do register. It seems, for whatever reason, that a constant 20% don’t.

In general terms 65% of vessels have a citadel; 35% have armed guards; 3% use the Group Transit Scheme in the Gulf of Aden, and something less than that follow a convoy.

Interestingly the citadel and armed guards figures have held steady over the past six months, despite the perception that the threat has decreased markedly. There are of course some unknowns here in the sense that the non-registering 20% of ships may have all been carrying armed guards and now don’t, but bear with me.

The military and the PMSC world are imploring the shipping world to maintain the same level of security at least for this year. In other words they are asking owners to assume a risk higher than it actually is. Owners are adopting the same measures as they did for the dark days of 2011 for levels of activity not seen since 2006. But there is what I call a “risk gap” developing between the levels of assumed and actual risk. Owners carrying out risk assessments under BMP may conclude that the risk, certainly in some of the far corners of the HRA, is very low. Filling or bridging the “risk gap” costs money which owners can ill afford. If that continues then it is likely to cause some tension in coming months.

Whilst flag states and industry push for owners to follow BMP,  what does the end game look like? Do we go back to the halcyon days of guard-free ships, or is this like the steel cockpit doors on aircraft – something that is here for ever more?

During the military briefing it struck me that the reason why piracy reached such a dramatic tipping point after the first quarter of 2011 may be down to a form of “herd immunity”. This is the same principle that persuades us to immunise our children against measles. If enough of us do it then the disease cannot take hold. Could  the same thing happen in shipping? Is 80% BMP compliance and 35% armed guards on-board the critical level of security for the world’s fleet such that herd immunity is achieved?

This may underplay the role of the aerial reconnaissance assets which the military have in place. These seem vastly superior to those available in 2008-09, but they must be worth keeping an eye on. It even makes sense. A lot of the pirates operations are or were speculative, and they gambled on being able to capture a vessel before running out of food and water. Now the herd is better protected the risk to the pirates has increased. It just takes too long to find a ship vulnerable to attack. It’s not worth trying, even though the reward side of the equation has probably increased.

It follows that if the levels of security decrease to the extent that a determined pirate group may strike lucky and encourage others to head for their hunting grounds, the disease will have a foothold and the herd will again be at greater risk.

Source: Ince & Co

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