Maritime piracy is at an all-time low, but data-driven technology will reduce it even further

Piracy incidents at sea could be at their lowest in 27 years according to the ICC International Maritime Bureau, but threats remain significant, requiring new data-driven approaches as well as security hardware

While the Indian Ocean – particularly the Somali coast – was for years the most dangerous area in the world for piracy, it is now in the Gulf of Guinea that the fight against global piracy is focusing its attention. Even though incidents there last year were down more than 60% from 2020, crews continue to face hostage-taking, kidnappings and violence. More than 70 sailors have been kidnapped during the year and last September, for example, pirates fired assault rifles, injured the crew and abducted an engineer from the MV Tampen who had anchored offshore from Gabon. Although many attacks occur in coastal waters, pirates in this region are also willing to venture far out to sea in search of prey.

The Singapore Strait and the waters around Indonesia and the Philippines also continue to be the scene of acts of piracy. And, despite the global decline in piracy last year, incidents have continued in South American waters and in anchorages off Haiti. Despite numerous collaborative initiatives and programs such as the Coordinated EU maritime presences for the Gulf of Guinea, piracy is unlikely to be eradicated. The Strait of Malacca has been a hotbed of piracy for decades, for example, and endemic poverty on Africa’s west coast provides a pool of labor that criminal gangs exploit.

A growing role for digital solutions

The ongoing battle against piracy requires maritime operators to revise their approaches in the era of digital innovation. While most ships already carry a wide range of identification, navigation, cargo handling and weather monitoring systems, they need to integrate faster warning and a wider range of intelligence sources, providing better understanding and a more streamlined approach.

At the very least, ships carrying Ship Security Alert Systems (SSAS) should perform more extensive testing. These systems are required under the International Ship and Port Security Code. They silently alert owners, flag states and authorities when they are victims of armed robbery or hacking. The hardware of an SSAS management solution on board a ship should automatically display alerts, tests and position reports on a web-based SSAS management service, providing all the data needed to mitigate risk in the event security event. On-board hardware should automatically display alerts, tests and position reports, providing personalized test alert profiles and an unlimited number of recipients.

Real-time risk assessments and maritime domain awareness

However, the need for operators to integrate hacking risk information into their surveillance technology is greater, so that they have a solution that provides information before and during a trip. Maritime Domain Knowledge platforms are increasingly meeting this requirement, allowing users to track, monitor and review the historical movements and ongoing progress of any vessel. They provide complete situational awareness by monitoring a vessel from different angles, allowing operators to identify specific risks in real time.

A domain awareness platform will combine the tracking systems most ships already use, but to much greater effect. Commercial vessels are required to use AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) and LRIT (Long Range Identification and Location Technology) systems. AIS broadcasts vessel ID and position over VHF (and via satellite) and complies with International Maritime Organization Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations. LRIT, a satellite-based technology, is an IMO-designated closed-loop reporting system that flag states and port states use for safety and security. A domain awareness platform combines these sources, along with Inmarsat position data, to provide ongoing real-time tracking.

They can include real-time reports of piracy events, as well as forecasts and risk assessments based on factors such as sea state and weather. Forecast sea state should form part of ongoing piracy risk assessments, correlating wave height and weather conditions with historical patterns of illegal behavior in specific areas, allowing operators to reorient themselves if necessary. Wave height is important because pirates frequently use smaller vessels and such intelligence adds to the understanding that operators can act on to reduce their exposure and improve crew safety.

The most effective maritime domain awareness platforms integrate these capabilities and provide operators with customizable intelligence about events in specific areas or time frames, covering kidnappings, ransoms, hijackings and armed robberies, as well as terrorist attacks and other maritime crimes. This reduces complexity and improves decision making to enable faster responses.

Faster action through better intelligence

An operator can monitor the progress of each vessel on its journey, constantly monitoring speed and estimated time of arrival. But when the ship deviates from its planned path, the operator will automatically receive an alert, allowing it to verify and collaborate with the competent authorities in the event of a hijacking or piracy attack. They can then mobilize aid much more quickly and efficiently, and minimize additional risks.

More effective oversight for all stakeholders

The whole world is becoming more data-driven, and the shipping industry should be no exception. Data and actionable intelligence are now critical to vessel operator business continuity, safety at sea and ultimately competitive advantage. For security-conscious governments, flag administrations and maritime authorities, maritime domain awareness solutions help safeguard waters and ensure successful coastal surveillance operations.

Across the shipping industry and its complex ecosystems of shippers, freight forwarders, operators and carriers, streamlined domain awareness platform technology is expected to be a critical weapon in the fight against violence, kidnappings and thefts at sea. The current decline in piracy may just be a lull and should not be used as an excuse for complacency or inaction.

About the Author

Julian Longson is CEO of The North Star. At Pole Star, we develop pioneering maritime intelligence technologies to protect our customers’ vessels, people, reputation and financial investments. Since 1998, we’ve pushed the boundaries of innovation, working with governments and businesses across the supply chain to mitigate the growing threats to ships, supply chains, cargo, territorial waters and, above all, lives within the maritime infrastructure and beyond.

Featured image: © Loupe

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