European naval anti-piracy officers are warning Hong Kong shipowners and crews to be vigilant in ports across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea as they brace for an expected violent new piracy season in coming months.
Nato, the European Union and Canadian naval officials staged a briefing yesterday for the Hong Kong shipping community.
They outlined a range of scenarios to ensure that ships and crews are as well protected as possible to cover the dangerous but vital shipping lanes that link Asia to Europe and the Middle East.
'There's no doubt that pirates are getting more desperate and there is a fear that the violence is increasing as pirates have to stage more attacks for each successful capture,' said Commander Stein Olav Hagalid, head of Nato's Shipping Centre. 'So the message is one of preparedness, vigilance and communication.'
'We can't be everywhere, but if shipowners, captains and crews take the right steps at every stage, it goes a long way to limiting the risks,' he said ahead of a closed-door briefing for the shippers.
Attention is being paid to security in ports following the attack on the Hong Kong-managed chemical carrier Fairchem Bogey in August as it lay at anchor off the port of Salalah in Oman. The 52,455 deadweight-tonne ship and its 21 crew are still being held at a pirate base on Somalia's coast.
Its Hong Kong-based manager, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, is still negotiating to free the ship - one of 17 held.
'The attack on the Fairchem Bogey may not be a one-off and everyone needs to be aware that ports present specific risks and challenges,' one EU naval official said.
Industry-best management practices do not cover ports, and crew may be less vigilant as a result. Many ships' crews use downtime at anchor to catch up on maintenance work postponed during spells while on pirate watch at sea.
Another problem is the lack of cover by the 40-odd navies now running anti-piracy operations across the Indian Ocean. While navies have broken up attempted pirate raids at sea, they are unable to enter nations' territorial waters to pursue pirates. That is a job for local coastguards.
Roy Paul of the International Transport Workers Federation briefed the seminar participants on efforts to raise awareness of the need to help crews and their families adjust with the psychological pressures of Indian Ocean piracy.
'It's is not just the captures and detentions that are a problem,' Paul said. 'It is the unsuccessful attacks, too. Everyone thinks it is all okay because the pirates have been thwarted but we know the pressures of fighting them off and being constantly on alert takes a real toll on seafarers. We know this is something owners are thinking about more and more and we want to help them find ways of dealing with these pressures.'