Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

The silence of the lambs

Posted on | April 3, 2012 | No Comments

In what Britons call a leader, and what we Yanks call an editorial, I have been somewhat taken to task by Lloyd’s List. On March 22nd, the leader’s author “take[s] exception” to my statement, made at CMA in Connecticut, that industry trade associations have been strangely silent when it came to positive measures that could be taken against the spread of piracy.  Interestingly, in another leader (editorial) five days later, Lloyd’s List seemed to acknowledge the force of my comments.

I did say, and would now repeat, the following:

  • In what is perhaps the seventh year of statements from our Great and Good, the most that could be said is that our industry has promoted purely defensive measures, such as “best practices”, the use of citadels, and seemingly interminable discussions on the vetting and use of armed guards.
  • Lloyd’s List has pointed out that spokesmen for industry trade associations, at CMA, condemned a proposed ban on ransoms.  I agree with them; however, speeches alone are not enough.
  • As the March 27 Lloyd’s List leader notes, “Since the escalation of piracy into the Indian Ocean, shipowners have gradually come round to the view that the fight against piracy will have to include offensive as well as defensive tactics”.  Yes, and haven’t some of us been saying this for at least 5 of the past 7 years?
  • A number of commentators have advocated an international agreement on the suppression of piracy, to promulgate and clarify the rules.  This has gotten slight support from industry groups and little notice in the media.
  • As the March 27 Lloyd’s List leader states, “Some [shipowners] have called for the UN Security Council to allow maritime nations guarding shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to exercise war powers that extend their range of actions beyond defending ships under imminent threat of attack”.  Doesn’t that make sense?
  • In my statement at CMA, I criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  It has been said that NATO stands for “No Action, Talk Only”.  I don’t believe that this is so, as NATO can, since the end of the Cold War, point to successes in the case of Libya, this past year, and the former Yugoslavia some years ago.  That said, I believe that governments – notably the United States – are more interested in fighting Al Qaeda, or more generally in the war on terrorism, than in suppressing piracy.  I also suspect that some intelligence agencies view elements of the Somali tribal potpourri, such as in “Puntland”, as potential or actual allies in that war, and have therefore deliberately exercised restraint in acting against them.  Is it not time that we took this possibility into account?  Could we not, as advocates for the seafarers who are victims of this policy speak out against it?
  • Lloyd’s List, in its two leaders, does not mention the spread of piracy into West African waters, which is compelling evidence that the current incoherent “policy” is failing.  Should we not point this out?
  • Lloyd’s List notes that “Shipowners have urged the combined naval forces to target mother ships”.  That is correct, but our industry leaders have been largely silent about this, as they have about other affirmative measures.  Shouldn’t we call attention to the need for action – assuming that there is such a need?
  • Lloyd’s List makes the point that, “The legality of piracy efforts becomes more complicated once naval forces pursue pirates into domestic waters.”  This is very true; it is a problem largely because no specific international rules, convention or agreements exist on the suppression of piracy.
  • No proper Hague-style tribunal for the trial of accused pirates has been provided for.  One is surely needed; our industry spokesmen have not raised this point, either.
  • The current practice of “catch and release” contributes to the impression that pirates are immune from justice.  Our industry leaders, and our principal media outlets have taken little apparent notice, or are apparently unwilling to comment one way or another.
  • The maritime media contain articles on many peripheral aspects of defensive measures, the latest being about “floating arsenals”, presumably needed to dole out weapons and ammunition to the growing number of armed guards.  While defensive measures are all well and good, they do nothing to control or defeat the scourge of piracy.  There are a number of affirmative measures, some of which are listed here, and some of which are not of a violent nature, that are needed.
  • I also made the point, at CMA, that while modern international navies – notably that of the United States – are able to deploy massive weapons platforms and systems, they are seemingly unable, under the present rules of engagement, to simply keep the sea lanes open and safe.  This interesting lesson is no doubt not lost on the Iranian Republican Guard; it demonstrates how a “low tech” force of relatively small craft may be used in the future to disrupt and harass international trade with impunity.  This should certainly be of concern to the NATO governments.
  • International naval forces continue to be hamstrung with restrictive rules of engagement.  We should all speak out, with one voice (remember that expression?), against this folly.

I’m gratified that my friends at Lloyd’s List describe me as being “one of [the media’s] own”.  They stopped short of calling me a journalist, but I’ll let that pass.


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