In a circular letter (No.3164, 14 February 2011), all IMO Members, the United Nations and specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations in consultative status are informed that naval forces operating in the region off the coast of Somalia have reported that an unacceptably high proportion of the ships transiting the Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean are not registered with the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa; are not reporting to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Dubai; show no visible deterrent measures and are not acting upon the navigational warnings to shipping promulgating details of pirate attacks and suspect vessels.
In drawing attention to the increased risk of successful pirate attack due to failure to implement fully the best management practice guidance, IMO strongly urges “all those concerned, particularly Administrations, industry representative bodies, seafarer associations, shipowners and companies to take action to ensure that ships’ masters receive updated information unfailingly and that all the recommended preventive, evasive and defensive measures are fully and effectively implemented”. “Regrettably, there is disturbing evidence to show that, in too many cases, this advice has either not reached shipping companies or their ships or has not been acted upon,” the circular letter says.
The letter also encourages Member Governments (together with their endeavours at other fora and associations) to make greater efforts to provide the additional naval and aerial surveillance and other resources needed through every means possible.
The letter also invites Administrations to provide long range identification and tracking of ships (LRIT) information to security forces operating in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean. An information distribution facility (IDF) has been established to assist security forces operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean to build a more accurate picture of where the merchant ships are, in order to provide more timely warnings of pirate activity and to facilitate more effective repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships through the more effective deployment of the limited available naval and military resources.
Through the anti-piracy action plan, the Organization aims at maintaining and strengthening its focus on anti-piracy endeavours of all kinds and at facilitating a broader, global effort. That plan has six prime objectives for 2011 and beyond:
1. to increase pressure at the political level to secure the release of all hostages being held by pirates;
2. to review and improve the IMO guidelines to Administrations and seafarers and promote compliance with industry best management practices and the recommended preventive, evasive and defensive measures ships should follow;
3. to promote greater levels of support from, and coordination with, navies;
4. to promote anti-piracy coordination and co-operation procedures between and among States, regions, organizations and industry;
5. to assist States to build capacity in piracy-infested regions of the world, and elsewhere, to deter, interdict and bring to justice those who commit acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships; and
6. to provide care, during the post-traumatic period, for those attacked or hijacked by pirates and for their families.
As at 14 February 2011, 685 seafarers of various nationalities are being held for ransom on board 30 ships under various flags at various locations off the extensive Somali coastline – reflecting a situation which has progressively worsened over the last 12 months. Ships are being boarded and seized and seafarers’ lives put at risk for prolonged periods of time in an area that has extended beyond the waters off the coast of Somalia to the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.
Piracy attacks are becoming more violent and the tactics used by pirates include using hijacked ships as bases (“mother ships”) for carrying out further attacks, with their crews remaining on board as “human shields”.
Furthermore, recent attacks on ships sailing at far distances from the Somali coast and in areas north and east of the Horn of Africa, which, until now, were considered relatively safe, have made an already complicated issue even more difficult. These developments make military intervention even more arduous and highlight the emphatic need for ships to take every possible measure to avoid being taken in the first instance.