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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Protecting ships against armed pirates – INTERTANKO position


3 July, 2009


Merchant ship protection


How can pirate attacks and/or armed robberies on merchant ships be deterred, delayed or even prevented? How can merchant ships prepare before entering a high-risk area? and how to minimise the risk of being attacked?


The vulnerability of ships transiting such areas varies greatly. A prudent operator and his seafarers will take into account and deploy the necessary self-protection measures contained in the IMO’s MSC Circulars and the industry’s widely circulated Best Management Practices (Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia) whose primary aim is to ensure the safest possible conditions for the crew, which is paramount. They will also take into account a ship’s vulnerability, including its freeboard, its transit speed and its ability to manoeuvre; they will also note the latest information received from any protective naval forces in the region.


Private security companies and Armed guards


There has been some debate regarding the use of firearms on ships to protect seafarers. INTERTANKO Members are convinced that:


  • The use of any arms carried on board ships will escalate the violence of pirate attacks and armed robberies and increase the risk of loss of life.
  • There should be no arming of ships’ crews. Crew members are not trained in the  use of firearms and should not be required to defend themselves and their ship.
  • Where a private security service is employed, the personnel should be unarmed and their role should be an advisory one.
  • The risks associated with live fire arms on an oil or chemical tanker are evident.
  • Private Security firms offering armed guards and escort services should be avoided.  There is no accepted quality control process in place; there are inherent problems regarding liability; there are command and control issues regarding the use of lethal force; and there are a number of insurance-related problems.
  • The use of government armed guards is of course a different matter. Where used, these should preferably be sourced from the ship’s flag state, and any deployment should be with the agreement of the owner/operator.


However, it needs to be borne in mind that if government armed guards were to be introduced on a large scale, the logistical issues of enabling the embarkation and disembarkation of government Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs) would be enormous, as several thousand would be required. How and where would they board the vessels? Where would such a large military force be billeted in-between transits? Where would they billet when onboard the vessel?


Gulf of Aden (GoA) and Somali Basin


INTERTANKO has welcomed the European Union’s agreement to extend EUNAVFOR’s Operation ATALANTA and the associated Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa. We strongly believe that the operation has now fully established itself and has demonstrated a proven track record of success. The coordination with NATO, and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), and the other navies in the region is, we believe, unprecedented. The extension of the operations demonstrates that EU governments are continuing to support their navies and assets in the region, addressing the ongoing sustainability of this support not only for existing assets but also to ensure more assets are provided with appropriate air support, by way of helicopters and/or Marine Patrol aircraft


INTERTANKO’s Marine Director Capt Howard Snaith says “Ensuring that the operator and its vessel is registered with MSCHOA, that the vessel regularly reports its position to MTO Dubai, and that the vessel submits its vessel movement form to MSCHOA, are the main key elements. With the information provided by the vessel and its operator, and using its own tried and tested methodology, MSCHOA can compile the necessary Vulnerable Shipping List (VSL).”


Since the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) started operation for ships transiting the GoA, there has been a noticeable drop in successful piracy attacks in this region. There is no doubt that the implementation of ships’ self protection measures, as contained in the Industry Best Management Practices, and associated proactive actions by the ship and her operator, significantly lower the risk of a successful attack.


Owners/Operators should :

  • Register with and submit their vessel movement forms to MSCHOA and provide regular reports to MTO Dubai, when within their reporting area.
  • Apply the industry Best Management Practices (BMP) to reduce the risk of a successful piracy attack;
  • Follow the recommended routing guidance as provided by MSCHOA.


Capt Snaith also says, “While the protective naval forces are addressing the symptoms of the piracy problem, the root cause behind the problem is to be found ashore in the absence of a strong and stable government in Somalia. As long as the root cause remains unresolved, the risk/reward balance remains attractive for the pirates. We therefore expect the piracy situation, and the need for government naval protection in the GoA and off the Somali coast, to continue for a considerable time. INTERTANKO’s members and the other international shipping associations very much appreciate  the present and long term commitment by  these governments of their military forces for the protection of merchant shipping in this area”.


INTERTANKO - Activities in support of anti-piracy measures

INTERTANKO has made a long-term commitment to tackling the piracy problem worldwide with quiet but firm leadership, although the focus is at the moment on the GoA and the Somali Basin in particular.


  • We have been providing a Merchant Navy Liaison Officer on part time secondment to MSCHOA since January 2009, helping to facilitate a two-way dialogue between MSCHOA and the industry, and at the same time providing oil and chemical tanker expertise.  
  • We were instrumental in coordinating the initial production of the Industry Best Management Practices.
  • OCIMF and INTERTANKO, together with Intercargo and SIGTTO, produced the first version of the piracy “blue book” (Practical Measures to avoid, deter or delay pirate attacks). To date many thousands have been distributed free of charge within the industry and to relevant authorities and other organisations.
  • We provided testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, and have had extensive contact with many governments around the world. .
  • We have been a regular attendee and participant at the U.N. Contact Group and  at the Working Groups (WG3 and WG1).
  • We provided an industry spokesman at the IMO sponsored Djibouti meeting which established the Djibouti Code.
  • We have been an active participant in the IMO Correspondence Group revising the IMO Circular on  Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships.
  • We organised a conference with the Philippines government   - “Taking the message to the seafarer” - where INTERTANKO played a major and pivotal role in helping to achieve a way forward with the Filipino Aden rule covering how Filipino seafarers will work on ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.
  • We participate in the SHared Awareness and DEconfliction (SHADE) meetings, which provide a working-level opportunity for navies to come together to share information and deconflict counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.
  • We send out regular bulletins with advice to our Members.
  • We cooperate and coordinate with our industry partners in the shipping, oil and insurance sectors, believing firmly in the value of the shipping industry developing and expressing a unified approach on these matters.




Capt Howard Snaith

Marine Director


Phone: +44 20 7977 7015