Although the maritime industry has evolved to make sea transport efficient, fast, and reliable, the occurrence of collisions at sea is still high. Considering the ships registered in the EU alone, between 2014 and 2021, there were 22,532 collision occurrences. Globally over 876 ships were lost between 2011-2020, with 49 ships being lost in 2020 alone .
What are the significant factors contributing to such accidents?
On September 25th, 2008, the vessel FAINA entered the Gulf of Aden, one of the most notorious pirate hotspots in the world, where the ship was hijacked, and the crew was taken hostage. FAINA carried military hardware that included tanks, military vehicles, aircraft artillery, rocket batteries, machine guns, RPG, etc. Given their sensitive cargo, it was expected that best efforts would be placed, and the vessel would be freed soon. However, only after five months, a Ukrainian Billionaire paid the negotiated ransom of 3.2 million dollars, FAINA was freed .
Pirates have often been portrayed as swashbuckling adventurers, but that is something miles away from reality. In today’s world, pirates pose an immediate threat to seafarers and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the global economy. Let’s understand how this piracy affects global trade, what risks it poses to the maritime industry, and how we, sitting miles away in our homes, are indirectly affected by it.
In the vast ocean, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) provides the identification of the ships. Under AIS, there are transceivers installed on ships that provide information such as unique identification of vessel, speed, course, position, true bearing, radio call sign, ETA, etc. on the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS). This set of information is used to track ships and monitor their movement for better navigation, avoiding collision, grounding, managing traffic in congested areas, and even identifying ships in distress.
Let me tell you a story from an upcoming John McTiernan movie: A ship is sailing peacefully 200 nautical miles off the Nigerian coastline, literally being in the middle of nowhere. Out of the blue, pirates manage to strike the ship and end up boarding it eventually. The crew, in their natural response, gather in a safe room, fearing their safety.
However, the pirates set aloof in their efforts in entering the ship’s bridge. It takes them six hours to bypass the Citadel, but they do it eventually. The pirates manage to kidnap 15 crew members and unfortunately, kill one member in skirmishes. How will they be saved? And most importantly, who will save them?
Think this is a plot good enough to be a sequel to Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips? Well, think again.
Evidently, I lied to you before when I told you it was going to be the next John McTiernan classic. It isn’t. This happened in real life on board the containership MOZART, which, unlike its namesake musician, wasn’t very lucky. FleetMon reported about the piracy attack in Jan 2021.
So, welcome to the Gulf of Guinea, where militant activities, armed robberies, crew killings, and tanker boardings are as common as the morning light. Before delving deeper into the possible remedies to these acute problems and the factors behind them, let’s break the situation down to you so you have a coherent understanding of the same.