IMO leads new anti-piracy initiative

Senior officials visit southeast Asia to promote regional co-operation

A team of senior IMO officials is undertaking a high-level mission to southeast Asia this week to initiate the second phase of the Organization’s latest anti-piracy project.

In the first phase of the anti-piracy project, a series of regional seminars and workshops held in Singapore and Mumbai during 1999/2000 identified a range of measures that could be undertaken to alleviate the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The principal purpose of the second phase will be to evaluate and assess the steps taken by Governments in the region as a result.

Incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships have been rising steadily in recent years, both in number and in severity. Armed gangs board ships both underway and at anchor, often injuring and occasionally murdering innocent crew members. The thieves’ objectives range from petty cash to stealing the entire ship and its cargo, often with dire consequences for the crew, who are either abandoned in lifeboats or, in the most extreme cases, killed and thrown overboard.

The Singapore meeting will bring together representatives from Asia and Pacific countries which either experience extensive piracy or armed robbery activities in waters off their coasts or can play a substantial role in addressing the problem due to their strategic location in relation to the most affected areas, which stretch from the South China Sea, through the Malacca Strait to the Eastern Indian Ocean. It will also include representatives of other countries which have a genuine interest in seeing the problem effectively addressed either because of the large number of ships under their national flag using the waters concerned or because of the strategic importance of the area as a trade route.

Among the key elements identified in the 1999/2000 meetings was the importance of regional co-operation and co-ordination in the fight against piracy and armed robbery. It was suggested at the 1999 Singapore meeting that authorizing local commanders to respond in concert with other agencies and regional security forces without the need to gain prior approval, together with regular joint patrols and surveillance activities, could help prevent attacks. Co-ordination could be achieved, it was agreed, through a raft of practical measures such as the exchange of officers, the sharing of common radio frequencies, and agreeing in advance to follow common practices and pre-arranged operational procedures.

The March 2000 meeting in Mumbai, recommended improving the exchange of information within the region and recognised that issues of bureaucracy needed to be addressed.

Two conferences held in Tokyo at the initiative of the Japanese Government adopted a Model Action Plan covering a range of anti-piracy measures, including self-protection measures that can be taken aboard ships, reporting to authorities, co-operation among different authorities within the same country, the establishment of a national network for the exchange of information and the subsequent analysis of information.

In this latest initiative, IMO will be concentrating on evaluating the actions taken by Governments to implement the anti-piracy measures recommended by the Organization within the areas under their jurisdiction, identifying where such measures have not been successful and what has impeded their implementation, examining the reasons behind any total or partial inability to implement the measures and finding ways in which IMO could assist in overcoming any difficulties the participating countries have encountered in the process.

IMO will also be looking for information on any ideas or proposals the participating Governments may themselves have with respect to regional co-operation for combating piracy and armed robbery, such as joint exercises, patrolling of certain particularly vulnerable sea areas, and exchanging intelligence on the movements of suspects. The sensitive issue of the deployment of law-enforcement resources in international or foreign national waters may also be addressed.

The Singapore meeting will be preceded by an expert evaluation, assessment and advisory mission to Jakarta for talks with Indonesian Government officials and representatives from the country’s law enforcement agencies and shipping industry.

IMO has long been campaigning and working to raise the profile of the problem of piracy among the Governments of the countries most concerned and, in particular, to provide authorities and ship operators with practical guidelines about how to avoid such attacks and how to minimize the effects of any incidents that do occur. As long ago as 1983, the IMO Assembly passed a resolution calling on governments to take urgent measures to prevent and suppress acts of piracy in or adjacent to their waters. IMO also called on its members, and non-governmental organisations in consultative status, such as the International Maritime Bureau of the ICC, BIMCO and ICS, to submit details of all attacks of which they become aware, so that accurate and up-to-date statistics on the nature and extent of the problem can be produced. From these reports, IMO produces monthly, quarterly and annual summaries highlighting the high-risk areas, which are published on the Organizations public web site (Reports on Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships).

In 1999, the Organization revised and re-issued its recommendations to Governments, shipowners and operators, masters and crew on suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships (MSC Circulars 622/rev1 and 623/rev1). The IMO Maritime Safety Committee has approved a draft code of practice for Governments on the investigation and prosecution of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The code is scheduled to be adopted as a resolution by the 22nd IMO Assembly in November this year.

The current mission to southeast Asia will be followed later this year by similar exercises in the Latin America/Caribbean and West African regions, which have also been identified as piracy hot-spots. The Governments of Greece, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, as well as the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have supported the initiative with funding and the IMO has encouraged other potential donors to do the same.

Information Resources on Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea: Part 1

Information Resources on Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea: Part 2