SECURITY | Big guns’ anti-piracy push

By Andy Pierce and Eoin O’Cinneide in London | TRADEWINDS

Maersk Line, MSC and CMA CGM have agreed to share information on anti-piracy measures and policies in an effort to reduce the risk of attacks on their vessels.

Soren Andersen, head of vessel management at Maersk Line, says the firms will “compare notes” in order to reduce the threat to their ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

“The monsoon season is ending so we are concerned we will see more attacks and incidents,” he said.

“I can’t go into details about what we can do as we don’t want the pirates to know what we are doing.”

He added: “There is a good chance we can increase the safety of our crews – that is the primary concern.

“Also we can address this issue in public and say ‘there is still a problem here’.

“This is not over and there are a lot of costs involved: to the industry, to our customers, to the exports and imports from Africa and to the environment as we have to speed up [in pirate infested waters].”

In a statement the trio acknowledge the piracy problem can’t be addressed over night.

“It is imperative that the naval forces have a strong and dynamic mandate to match the constantly changing situation in the area.

“It is also vital that the acts of piracy do not go unpunished, which is why appropriate legal frameworks for prosecuting pirates are needed,” a statement said.

All three liner operators have had brushes with Somali pirates – none more infamous than the case involving the 1,098-teu Maersk Alabama (built 1998).

The US-flagged boxship was stormed by pirates off Somalia in April 2009 before its master Richard Phillips was taken hostage in one of its lifeboats.

US marines stepped in a few days later and shot dead three of the four pirates, arresting the fourth and freeing Phillips.

Incredibly, the same ship was set upon once again by pirates off the coast of Somalia in November last year but a vessel protection detachment onboard managed to fend off the assault.

Before that, in May last year another of its boxship – the 4,300-teu Maersk Virginia (built 2002) – was threatened by pirates in the Gulf of Aden but did not come under fire.

The following month the Dane’s 109,600-dwt tanker Maersk Phoenix (built 2005) had to be rescued by coalition naval forces after coming under fire in the Gulf of Aden.

Andersen shrugs off suggestions Maersk has more to contribute to the partnership than its two rivals given the high-profile incidents involving its ships.

“The other guys have also seen their slice of the action,” he said.

“It is true that we have had some pretty bad experiences but everybody is bringing something to the table. I don’t think we are bringing more than the others.”

In May last year the 6,400-teu, MSC-chartered boxship MSC Stella (built 2004) was threatened by pirates whilst in a convoy transiting the Gulf of Aden.

More recently, the 2,415-teu, MSC-owned boxship MSC Peggy (built 1984) managed to escape hijacking after coming under fire off the coast of Madagascar in May this year.

Although CMA CGM has not had any of its container vessels hijacked by Somali pirates, a luxury yacht owned by the French company was seized in the early days of large-scale piracy in the region.

The Ponant was snatched in April 2008 with 30 crew members onboard but freed a week later after the armed intervention of French special forces. It is part of the fleet of the liner shipping group’s cruise subsidiary, Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.

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