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Piracy approach a failure, say Hong Kong shipowners

Posted to Far East Maritime (by on January 19, 2010

A furious statement by the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association reflects the frustration felt by shipping firms at the world's inability to prevent pirate attacks.

The Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association (HKSOA) has called for governments to throw out the current response to pirates menacing ships off the Horn of Africa, accusing the international community of tolerating piracy instead of eliminating attacks.
This approach was sending out the message that piracy carries little risk for generous reward, the association said in a statement.

More than 1,500 seafarers have been taken hostage for ransom, often for months at a time, said the HKSOA, despite significant measures shipowners have taken to defend their crews.

The HKSOA has demanded a more robust approach from the international community.

This is a stance that will resonate across the shipping industry that is becoming increasingly frustrated with pirates who seem able to operate with impunity. Military patrols in the Gulf of Aden have prevented many attacks but the pirates have simply moved far out to sea.

The HKSOA questions why motherships that ferry smaller and faster skiffs deep into the ocean are not found and disabled or detained. Instead, pirates are allowed to return to these deepsea bases and continue their attacks.

It is extraordinary that governments today seem less able to protect shipping than they were almost 200 years ago,” the HKSOA lamented.

The association makes the point that if airlines were being hijacked as regularly as ships in the Indian Ocean, the response would be far more robust. There is merit in this argument. One failed attempt to bring down an airliner bound for the US on Christmas Day and airports have begun profiling half the world. Yet even though ships carry 90 percent of global trade, scores of pirate attacks and millions paid in ransoms are allowed to continue.

Waiting for democracy in Somalia to solve the problem has been suggested as an option, but it is a terrifically poor one. Somali democracy revolves around one man-one AK-47, rather than one man-one vote, and the sad reality is that the country will still be a basket case when Rip van Winkle wakes up.

There is only one way to tackle piracy, just like there was back in the days of buccaneers, Blackbeard and the skull and crossbones – bring out the guns. Blow pirate skiffs and motherships out of the water and this scourge of shipping will end.

There is too much money at stake on both sides for a kid gloves approach to work. Only when pirates know as they put out to sea that there’s a good chance they won’t return alive – or in the next few years – will they seek out a new profession.

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