Uncertainty remains regarding the unconfirmed reported deaths of two seafarers aboard the hijacked Beluga Nomination.Germany’s Der Spiegel claims that the two died during a firefight between pirates aboard the vessel and a responding Seychelles patrol vessel while a NATO report regarding the recovery of another two seafarers from a freefall lifeboat refers to an attempt by the crew to retake the vessel
Whatever the facts, the deaths are a tragically timely reminder of the hazards of attempting to free hostages or crew trying to retake their vessels.
Rescue actions by South Korean and Malaysian special forces have rightly been applauded but talk of a new harder military line against pirates is premature. Indeed, organisations like the International Maritime Bureau have leavened well-earned congratulations with a modicum of caution.
The problem for responding forces is, and always must be, the safety of the hostages. In warfare, deaths by friendly fire and so-called ‘collateral damage’ is a known, and at least quietly accepted part of an operation. Warfare is the process of gaining and holding territory – lives are less important than the territory to be held. Rescuing hostages is about saving the lives of the hostages, not a demonstration of national testerone.
Talk of a ‘harder line’ against pirates overlooks the changes in the situation that favours rescuers. The Malaysian, South Korean, Russian and US rescues of note, were possible because of successes by naval forces and ship’s crews in waters closer to the Somali coast. Pirates have been forced to move further afield with the use of motherships.
At the same time, better counter-piracy measures aboard ship, including the citadel concept and saferooms, have served to delay pirates access to a functioning vessel. Most important it has enabled the separation of pirates and crew in a way that heightens the chances of a successful rescue.
Tragedies like Beslin School, the Moscow Theatre siege, the death of Linda Norgrove , the Philippine bus disaster are all brutal reminders that rescuing hostages all too often leads to the deaths of those hostages.
It is from such incidents that the ’60 second rule’ has been developed – on average rescuers have just 60 seconds to secure and protect the hostage after their intervention is discovered.
The new situation can be turned against pirates but only if response times are reduced. That means the commitment of more naval assets to the area together with legal moves regarding evidence such as the equipment laws that served to stifle slaver ships in centuries past.
BIMCO has called for “immediate action by governments before these tactics make trading in the area almost impossible. Over 40% of the world’s seaborne oil supply now passes through waters at high risk from pirate attack at a time when studies are indicating that piracy is costing the global economy $7-12 billion per year.
“We call on the world’s governments to note the extent to which additional international naval assets in this region are desperately needed, and how they should be empowered to enforce a truly robust response against the pirates before ships are successfully hijacked”.: “
Yet, ultimately, piracy will not end until ways are found to address the economic and other forces that pushed Somali fishermen to become pirates in the first place and laid the groundwork for the webwork of international crime that it has become today.
Here, surely, there is a role for the maritime industry to play. To leverage its enormous resources to find a way to generate hope and opportunity in that sad and shattered land.
Without hope and opportunity a man has nothing to live for. And sooner or later, a man with nothing to live for will find something to die for.