Security order for HK ships in piracy fight

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am


All Hong Kong-flagged ships sailing or expected to sail in the Indian Ocean have to report their position to a European military co-ordinating centre that oversees anti-piracy efforts in the region.

The move was confirmed by Marine Department director Roger Tupper following a request from the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) that is operated by the European Union naval force.

Concerns were raised that fewer than 40 per cent of Hong Kong-registered ships passing through the Indian Ocean have taken the necessary step to register with the maritime security centre, making it hard for naval forces to protect them. 'If we don't know where you are, we can't help you,' Simon Church, maritime industry liaison officer with European Union Naval Forces Somalia, told the South China Morning Post last week.

Tupper said that the Marine Department had sent a message to security officers on board Hong Kong-flagged ships operating in the region between the west coast of India and the east African coast. 'One hopes that the naval forces will similarly prowl these waters and use their advanced surveillance kits to track down each and every pirate ship and rid the seas of this scourge,' Tupper told shipping industry representatives and government officials at an industry lunch on Monday.

His comments coincided with the start of a two-day anti-piracy conference in Dubai, with representatives from 50 countries. It ended yesterday. Tupper said: 'The recent upsurge of attacks, up almost threefold in the first quarter of this year, is of great concern to us all here.'

The International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre said there were 107 attacks by Somali pirates this year up to April 14. A total of 17 ships were hijacked and 600 seamen were being held captive in Somalia. Shipping industry insiders said the start of the monsoon season in the next few weeks could result in a fall in the number of attacks for a few months because sea conditions would become too rough. But there was concern pirate attacks would resume with a vengeance from September or October.

One maritime professional said there was already more than one incident a day and he feared pirates would use the monsoon period to stock up with more weapons.

He thought the situation would become untenable if the number of attacks escalated to two or three a day, especially as the European anti-piracy operation was due to finish at the end of next year.

There are more than 1,700 ocean-going ships registered in Hong Kong and several have been attacked by pirates over the past few years.