PIRACY | Citadel drawbacks

David Osler | Lloyd’s List | 2010.10.26

SO YOU are a seafarer on a slow and low vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, and you spot a bunch of khat-crazed Somalis brandishing Kalashnikovs heading in your general direction as rapidly as their skiff will carry them. What would be your first reaction?

If your answer is ‘get the heck out of harm’s way’, your thinking is in line with industry trade association recommendations. Make for your safe muster point immediately.

Citadels, as they are commonly known, do often work. Thanks to their textbook application of the strategy, the crew of German heavylift Beluga Fortune avoided an unwanted three-month vacation in Somalia after their ship was boarded by pirates on Sunday.

The evil-doers were thwarted after the crew switched off the main engine, leaving the vessel adrift. Once the Royal Navy pitched up the following day, the bad guys cut their losses and ran away.

The temptation for some shipowners will be to regard citadels as the long-awaited magic bullet cure for piracy. But as analysts have pointed out, the tactic also has its drawbacks.

Perhaps the biggest risk is that locked out pirates will feel the need to force their way into safe rooms, by any means necessary. In one incident, they fired assault rifles at a door in a bid to break into a hideout, killing one of the crew and injuring another.

It is not hard to imagine even worse scenarios. Let us hope they do not come to pass.

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