With piracy taking a turn for the worse, Indian ship owners have upped their ante making a desperate bid for the ultimate step of using armed guards on board the vessel. Despite the Naval authorities and major manning companies frowning on such measures, the Indian National Shipowners Association (INSA) in their representation to the Government of India recently has insisted as “a first option for armed Naval guards from the flag states. If this is not possible then they insist that Indian ship owners be permitted to employ armed private guards, of course with due regards to selection of a reputable company through due diligence.”
To support their demand they have pointed out that so far no vessel with armed guards on board has been subject to pirate attacks. Also various international organizations including ICS, ITF, BIMCO, etc., have indicated that they do not oppose the employment of armed guards on board vessels. INSA has also stated that ITF is considering advising their unions to prepare to refuse to go through the danger areas and if that does happen then the ship owners will have no choice but to divert heir vessels via the Cape of Good Hope resulting in massive cost escalation.
Cdr J. Suresh the Command Operation officer of the Western Command, Indian Navy warned, “No doubt that each successful attack is making the pirates more hi-tech, richer, greedier and bolder but taking armed guards on the vessel is not a solution. If you take armed guards you might soon have pirates flaunting missiles. It is better to leave the issue of fighting the pirates to the navies.”
While appreciating the role of the Indian Navy, the Chief Executive officer of INSA, Anil Devli points out in the memorandum of March 2011to the Shipping Ministry, “In recent weeks there has been a significant increase in the geographical reach of the pirates, ranging across the Indian Ocean to the coast of India and towards the Straits of Hormuz. The attack on the Indian flag vessel on 28 February, 2011 was not the first and surely will not be the last. This increase in range by pirates has been achieved by using previously captured commercial vessels as mother-ships. There is no doubt that the pirates are operating with impunity and have become bold to act just outside Indian coastal waters.”
What is tormenting the Indian ship owners is the increase in war risk premium in the Indian Ocean area close to the Indian coast. This war risk premiums have increased 300 folds from $ 500 per ship to $ 150,000 per ship, per voyage.
Also the protection and the welfare of seafarers is the first consideration in the minds of ship owners. The need to protect the assets is also equally important. Their concern is on the upswing owing to the increase in the use of violence and the murder of at least two seafarers and four US citizens.
INSA disagrees with the effectiveness of the BMP3. “It is clearly not fool-proof and it only helps to evade and not thwart an attack. INSA has confirmed that their members are working towards full compliance of the requirement of ‘Safe House’ on their vessels although it is not possible to achieve this overnight. There are some problems with procurement of certain equipment which their members are trying to overcome.
While praising the response of the Indian Navy, Coast Guards and others involved in patrolling the region in their endeavor to control the area and fight the pirates INSA contends that given the vast area across the Indian Ocean which is now affected by piracy, there are simply too few warships to offer protection to the majority of ships engaged in the international trade through these strategically vital trade routes.
In order to counter the menace posed by pirates, the Government of India has announced a four-pronged strategy, which includes setting up of an inter-Ministerial group, naval cooperation with friendly countries in the Gulf of Aden and intensifying diplomatic efforts.
The External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, told the Lok Sabha that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had given its nod for a series of measures to address the "legal, administrative and operational aspects of combating piracy" in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
Affirming that a broad policy framework, dealing with all these aspects, was approved, Mr. Krishna said that it would require action by the Ministries of Shipping, External Affairs and Defence in the medium as well as long-term.