Piracy on the high seas: How do Israel and Russia combat this menace?
March 14, 2011 03:19 PM |
A number of foreign flagships have their own armed personnel on board, they call them “seamen”, and organise documents for them from the flag state. But India has made it extremely difficult for armed personnel to sail on board Indian merchant flagships
In the world of shipping, flags and nationalities often have interchangeable meaning, and it is not unusual for ship-owners and ship-operators to not just burn the candle on both ends, but also cut the candle up into small pieces, burn it at every end, and then burn it lengthwise too.
The history of almost every major shipping company is littered with evidence and anecdotes of what could best be called "extreme free enterprise"-slave trade, narcotics, arms, sanctions, colonial ambitions-nothing is or was impossible.
A roll-call of some of the major shipping interests around today, especially the 'Old Money' sorts from Western and Middle Europe, will show how as recently as during World War II, fleets were literally divided up to serve on both sides. That's nothing new. Somebody has to win, it made sense to cover all bets-this is also called hedging.
Some day soon, we shall also discuss derivates in the same context.
And of course, yesterday's gunrunners making their futures in and around Africa and Asia are today's corporate darlings, with shipping histories conveniently ignoring the truths. The only loyalty is towards turning over a faster profit, at any cost, especially when new flags can be rented by the hour.
Mongolia's maritime ambitions are the latest example, where anything goes.
So, in a way, why blame the poor Somalians-after all, if they were wearing suits tailored from bespoke outlets and could just knot their ties better than they do their lungis, they would not really look very different-and the flag would not really matter. Every European nation worth its colonial history has a few dozen flags lying spare here and there in the rest of the world-so what if they had to let go a Hong Kong or Singapore?
Here a fact: reading up on the small nation-states that still owe allegiance to the victors of the World War II, ostensibly fought on the basis of "freedom for all", is indeed extremely revealing. Thing is, there are so many of these little-little countries, mostly islands here and there, that it is quite a long read.
But it helps to understand shipping, and to figure out why shipping companies love them, too. It may be a bit difficult to memorise and sing so many new National Anthems, but hey, they can always buy a CD. Here's another fact: newer the country, easier the Flag of Convenience, and often prettier the flag.
But there are always exceptions. For some people, for some flags, never forget. And the Israelis stand very, very tall in this. In fact, their flags are the tallest in the world. Today, their ships sail past the pirate areas of the Indian Ocean, without challenge. A friend who was a Master on one of their Zim Line ships relates an episode of how while other ships would creep past in full black-out conditions, they would barrel through the piracy areas with all lights on and with floodlights shining on the funnel as well as name and port of registry. Every time. Nobody knows if the pirates out there can read Hebrew, so the name is also painted on in English.
Into this world we bring our gentle and loyal readers a small touch, a faint whisper of a part of a chapter in a huge book actually, of the amazing real-life story of the Ofer Brothers. Apart from owning the Israeli shipping behemoth, Zim, the Ofers are also known to own and control Tanker Pacific (one of the largest oil-tanker operators in the world) as well as a few other shipping interests-including the companies that owned the St James Park and the Asian Glory, that were hijacked and released in 2009.
One version is here:
Another version is here:
And here too, the third version, where you will notice that our old friends-the banks and the insurance companies-make their now usual grand appearance, as private investors too.
But this report is about piracy and Israelis. For that, please and kindly look carefully at the timeline below:
This is a statement issued by the operators after the release of their ship, the St James Park, mid-May 2009. "The company does not wish to jeopardise the safety of crew members held on its second hijacked vessel the Asian Glory or other vessels and crews that are still being held by Somali pirates in the area," Zodiac said in a statement. (The vessel St James Park, with a British flag, was hijacked on 28 December 2008 and released on 14 May 2009, with Indian, Pakistani and Bulgarian crew).
This is the statement issued by the operators after the release of their ship, the MV Asian Glory in mid-June 2009-"Zodiac said in a statement on its website that all crewmembers were well, but declined to provide further details." (MV Asian Glory, with a British flag, was hijacked in early January 2009 and released in mid-June 2009-its crew consisted of Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Indians and Romanians.)
But there has been no statement issued by the owners or operators, as yet, pertaining to the hijack and release of their ship the MV Arctic Sea, from the North Sea, in highly-controlled Western Europe waters. On voyage from Finland to Algeria with "timber", but suspected to have been carrying weapons likely destined for certain Arab interests. (MV Arctic Sea, Malta flag, primarily Canadian owned-beneficial owners unclear-was hijacked in late July 2009 and "found" in mid-August 2009 in the Atlantic Ocean).
The buzz in the maritime world in India and elsewhere has been loud and clear after this-Ofer's ships will simply not be touched again. In fact, any Israeli interests will not be touched again in the Indian Ocean piracy areas. Buzz also has it that on the waterfront in Puntland and the rest of the Horn of Africa, word is out that you don't mess with the Star of David, or those whom they protect.
So you now have MSC, (Med Shipping of Geneva, Switzerland, another shipping company with a history of its own, operating from that great maritime nation, Switzerland) the largest operators of cruise ships, openly declaring that their "security staff" was and is Israeli.
Here's another episode: April 2009, the MSC Melody with a "large number of passengers onboard" repelled an attack by boats and boats of pirates about 500 miles off Somalia. Apparently it was a planned attack. Initial news reports spoke about the ship taking successful evasive action, but truth is that the security forces onboard used firearms "and more" to drive off the attackers, and then actually doing some more too-which cannot and will not be repeated here.
But put it this way, there are videos circulating on the Internet of how security men from another nation captured some pirates, released the hostage crew who were being forced to operate the mother ship, and then, what the heck, tied the pirates up and then blew up the ship.
Some people got very, very, wet-and unhappy. Russian ships don't get attacked in Somalia any more, either, for some time now.
So this is what the MSC Melody's ship-owner's statement said: "Security work onboard our cruise ships is very popular with young Israelis just out of the army, the job is seen as a chance to save money and travel at the same time. Hundreds of veterans and reservists of elite Israel Defence Force units, including Naval commandos, are employed in security work on cruise ships and oil rigs in areas subject to pirate attacks."
And in the bargain, another amazing factoid is emerging in Africa-the Israelis are fast becoming important players in all forms of commercial enterprises in and around the emerging African countries. One country, (actually three of them), is reported to now permit nuclear tests as well as Armed Forces "training" on their territories. (South Africa stopped in the post-apartheid era, that is what one understands, and Angola is not all that big).
The Chinese are now facing competition, because cheap labour costs the same for both of them, especially if it is from Third World countries. And most of all, Israeli interest ships continue to flow through safely-which is more than what many other countries can claim.
Where is India on something like this?
1) All sorts of important people in Delhi are debating on whether Indian ships should have armed guards on them or not. Popular sentiment fashioned on some old traditions going back to, where else, the British, has it that merchant ships should not be armed. This is usually after lunch and before dinner, after which they all go home to their well-protected homes, mostly with heavily armed guards outside.
2) The Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai, in its own brilliance has made it extremely difficult for ex-Indian Navy personnel to sail onboard Indian merchant flag ships. The background of this is somewhere else totally, and involves Supreme Court judgements, so it will not be discussed here, other than a single simple comment: "own goal". Or better, still, "self
3) Foreign flagships which have their own armed personnel onboard declare the security people as "seamen", and organise documents for them from the flag state. The actual arms are either declared and kept in bonded locker stores, or simply, sometimes, not declared, that's also life. Releasing a ship from official pirates in India is easier than getting it released from unofficial pirates in Somalia.
4) The ITF, BIMCO, Intertanko, Interbulk and the International Chamber of Shipping are meeting in London again next week. Apparently they plan to issue another joint appeal, after lunch and before dinner, and then launch another Web campaign. However, they are also not in favour of placing armed guards on merchant ships-though this is also being debated. To the best of my knowledge, the Indian government is not represented here this time, though some other Indians in shipping are.
There is no too ways about this-piracy at sea is now a very important component of what is increasingly being referred to as "MCO". (Multinational Crime Organisation). History teaches us that the New World was conquered by buccaneers and they were supported brilliantly by their backers-state, church or commerce. Things really haven't changed that much lately, either.