Club issues guidance to on how to protect crew from pirates

The Standard P&I Club has issued guidance to help shipowners minimise the dangers posed by pirates in the seas around Somalia.

The advice deals with how to make a vessel a more difficult, less attractive target for the pirates. It also contains related legal and insurance advice.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 60 ships have been attacked by gangs operating out of Somalia, of which 29 were hijacked, and more than 300 seafarers have been taken hostage.

Recent targets have included not only small coastal ships but also large ocean-going ships, including tankers.

‘It’s a measure of our concern that we’ve taken the unusual step of issuing a special bulletin to members. It’s not just the uncertainty and financial loss to the business caused by pirates, serious as they are, but the devastating effects that kidnap can have on the lives of seamen and their families,’ said director of loss prevention Chris Spencer. ‘We expect incidents of piracy in the area to increase in the short term.’

‘Whilst no master can make his ship entirely kidnap-proof, there’s an awful lot he can do to reduce the danger. Much of it is about simple practical measures that shipowners can take, including improved communication and awareness.’

The bulletin recommends that ships maintain a distance of at least 300 miles from the Somali coast. Pirates who used to restrict their activities to a 200-mile belt of water are now venturing significantly further. It stresses the importance of good passage planning and the need for heightened security levels when passing near the country.

Even when being attacked, there are things that masters can do to protect their vessels: ‘Evasive manoeuvring can be successful. The small boats being used by the pirates can be vulnerable to heavy stern wash,’ said the bulletin.

Maritime lawyer David Semark warned that shipowners cannot refuse charterer’s orders to travel via the Gulf of Aden. Any owner wishing to avoid the region altogether because of security concerns would likely need bespoke contract wording, he said.