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The Threats Facing Modern Shipping

A few years back it was Somalia which took the maritime world by force, awakening ship owners to a new reality of maritime dangers. Today, when most people seem to think that these are now perils of the past, the realities of maritime shipping are much more dangerous and complex, just not so much in the spotlight any more, as high profile attacks are now scarcer. In an exclusive interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com), Mr. Alexandros Theodosios Kontos, Chief Operating Officer with LSS-SAPU, a specialized maritime security company, highlights the complexity of threats, noting that maritime terrorism, kidnappings for ransom reasons and cyber crime are the three main issues.

LSS specialises in Information & Technology, Training and Security Services both ashore and at sea. LSS retains active offices in London, Galle, Athens, Limassol and Seoul. In 2010, LSS focused on the Somali Piracy phenomenon and founded the Special Anti Piracy Unit (SAPU) as a response. SAPU is made up of Special Forces Officers and commandos, highly experienced, constantly trained with over 35 Certifications/Qualifications each. Also, LSS – SAPU is a BIMCO Associate PMSC member, ISO/PAS 28007-01:2015, ISO 9001:2008 & ISO 14001:2004 certified and a signatory company of the International Code of Conduct Association – ICoCA.

A lot has changed since the rise of Somalian piracy back in late 2000’s until today.

Where do we stand today in terms of Somalia and its threat to the maritime industry?

Following the recent attack faced by the CPO Korea some 300nm off Somalia and the Chinese Navy deterrence by the use of warning shots against a Pirate Action Group consisting of 4 skiffs along with the hijacking of the Iranian fishing vessel a few months ago, it is safe to conclude the Somali Piracy threat is still out there.

The NATO withdrawal from the area certainly does not assist. Any balance in the HRA still comes from the three-legged stool of Navy active presence, BMP4 and Private Maritime Security Companies. Remove one of the three legs and the stool will collapse. Shorten one or more of the legs and the stool will not be performing well, if at all.

Which are today’s major “hotspots”, which ships will have to be extra careful when crossing?

The major hotspots are the HRA and especially the Bab Al Mandeb (BAM) where we even saw the tragic death of seafarers from an RPG attack against MV Joya, which set the vessel ablaze and ended up sunk. The Gulf of Guinea remains a deeply problematic area with no signs of improvement. Last but certainly not least the Sulu and Celebes seas area are quickly evolving into one of the worst areas a ship can sail with constant attacks, kidnappings and even beheadings of hostages when ransom payments are delayed. Combine the last with the recent attacks against Navy and Merchant vessels by RPGs in the BAM along with the Mukala attack we faced last year and we are clearly looking into a new era as far as maritime threats are concerned. This new threat is Maritime Terrorism.

Any and all vessels are under threat when crossing or operating these areas. Owners should conduct careful Risk Assessments considering all relevant factors in which they might very well conclude it is not safe to operate in these hotspots without the presence of armed guards, and/or patrol boats. As far as the Sulu and Celebes seas are concerned as no such service can be provided at the moment one may conclude it is best not to operate or even sail there at all.

Which are the biggest maritime threats today, apart from ship hijackings?

Even with a quick glance at the latest IMB report one can understand that Kidnap & Ransom along with Maritime Terrorism are well into today’s reality. K&R applies in the Gulf of Guinea and the Sulu/Celebes Sea with or without hijackings. It is essential to point out that it would not be a great surprise to experience Somali pirates switching tactics and adapting a similar model, which might not include hijacking the vessel itself. In fact K&R is relatively easy to implement in many areas of the globe.

As far as Maritime Terrorism is concerned in a nutshell we are looking at a totally different beast. The purpose here is not ransom money but terror. This can be inflicted by providing severe damage to merchant shipping like e.g. setting a vessel ablaze at a major shipping lane like the BAM but especially by claiming seafarers’ lives as it inevitably attracts the needed media attention, whi