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Managing security at sea amid heightened maritime threats

18 April 2024

Maritime safety and risk management

Maritime safety remains a persistent risk for ships and crew navigating the world's oceans. In certain regions, this risk has increased over the last 12 months, while in others, new security threats have emerged due to ongoing conflicts.

While it’s often impossible to completely avoid such dangers, they can be proactively and effectively managed to guard the safety of the ship, its crew and cargo – a top priority of ship managers throughout every voyage. Smart digital solutions provide a valuable tool for managing at-sea and port security risks, helping crew to remain vigilant and informed so they can adopt robust security measures as and when needed.

Seafarers face heightened security threats

For ship managers, piracy and other risks to security and safety have been consistent concerns. In the noughties and 2010s, incidents of piracy and armed robbery were rife, peaking in 2011 when the International Maritime Organization recorded 578 incidents. Due to multinational efforts to fight piracy, this rate has steadily declined to, on average, around a quarter of this today.1

This downward trend has been sightly reversed in more recent months, however. In January, the Piracy and Armed Robbery Report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 120 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships last year, compared to 115 in 2022.2 Notably, the IMB raised concern over the first successful Somali based hijacking since 2017. It also urged caution for crew safety as the number taken hostage and kidnapped increased from 41 to 73 and from two to 14 in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

A new security and safety threat has also emerged in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden.3 Incidents here include collateral damage due to conflict between groups in the region and a potential deliberate targeting of ships. This has disrupted global trade resulting in temporary shutdowns of the Suez Canal and with ship operators choosing to take a safer but longer transit route around the Cape of Good Hope.4 In December, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multi-national drive to ensure safe navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden under the structure of the existing Combined Task Force 153. 5

Other areas of concern for ship operators include the Horn of Africa. From November to January there was more piracy in this region than at any point in the last six years, according to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)6. Although numbers are still not as high as peaks of incidents in 2011 and 2012, the area is considered a “high-risk” zone. While naval forces of the 25 countries in the region are active, due to its vastness there remains no guarantee of safe navigation.

The Singapore Strait is also a key area of heightened security risks. While incidents occurring here are considered low level and opportunistic in nature, 95% have been successful and the incidence rate has remained steady over the last two years.7 The Asia region at large is a primary area of concern, 70 of the IMB reported 120 security events last year were in East or Southeast Asia, the majority in the Singapore Straits, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Similarly, after seeing incidents suddenly drop since 2020, when the highest incidence rate was recorded, The Gulf of Guinea region is still considered dangerous for seafarers according to the IMB. Three of the four globally reported hijackings, all 14 crew kidnappings, and 75% of reported crew hostages and two injured crew in 2023 happened here.8

The Callao anchorage in Peru has also been flagged as seeing a rise in incidents, with 14 reported in total.9

Managing piracy and other maritime risks

While governments are mobilising to address the rise in maritime threats, including the US approving a sale of nearly $4 billion of military equipment to help safeguard the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region, ship operators and managers need to be on high alert.11 Especially as it’s not always possible to avoid high risk maritime areas, and so must look to effectively manage and mitigate them instead.

This requires implementing comprehensive safeguarding plans and protocols, physical security measures, such as onboard security personnel, surveillance systems, and secure perimeters and bright lights.

Documents such as Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea (BMP5) provide detailed guidance on precautions and procedures to take when operating in high-risk areas. Crew members should be aware of such best practises, as well as informed of potential and evolving threats and fully trained to respond to a range of incidents.

In addition, diligent planning, along with being highly vigilant and adaptable, is arguably one of the best defences against evolving security threats. Digital technology can support this with real-time knowledge sharing and predictive alerts, both onboard vessels and shoreside to support safe voyages.

Regs4ships, LR OneOcean's Regulatory Compliance solution, is a trusted source for official regulatory publications, featuring a dedicated Anti-Piracy section. This section includes up-to-date reports on piracy and security threats, encompassing current and previous alerts, advisories, incident reports, and guidance materials, such as BMP 5.

The OneOcean Platform enhances anti-piracy and vessel security with multiple functionalities. It includes a piracy module, easily enabled to visually present both historical and recent global maritime security threats. Users can pinpoint the precise locations of the latest attacks and access incident reports at a click-through.

In FleetManager, the shoreside cloud-based counterpart to the OneOcean Platform, users can access High Risk Areas, Joint War Areas, and Voluntary Reporting Areas. Predictive alerts can be set to warn users when vessels are approaching areas considered to be significant threat, so they can activate security protocols and processes as required.

This kind of real-time view of past and ongoing security risks, contextualised with situational awareness from a threat perspective, puts managers and bridge leaders in the best place to plan, react and ultimately mitigate risks to protect the vessel, cargo and the crew.

LR OneOcean
The team at LR OneOcean. Contact us at [email protected] .

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