If you ask me: How the shipping industry is using technology to tackle 21st century piracy
Keeping the oceans safe with technology
Modern-day pirates threaten the security of trade as well as ships and their crews.
In 2009, panic swept Spain. When pirates in the Indian Ocean hijacked Spanish trawler the Alakrana and its 36-strong crew, then its sister ship the Elai Alai, supplies of tuna were cut by almost two-thirds and there was an uproar in parliament. The Spanish might cope with the Euro crisis, but they can't live without their tuna.
This sort of piracy regularly features in the headlines. Most reports are of attacks on vessels at sea off the coast of Somalia or, more recently, the west coast of Africa, but sea piracy is a worldwide phenomenon.
According to US think-tank Oceans Beyond Piracy, sea piracy in the Indian Ocean alone costs the world economy between $7bn and $12bn per year. SAMI, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, has estimated the cost of global sea terrorism to be at least $30bn.
Virtually all of Britain's international trade in goods is by sea. The UK Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts that the value of seaborne imports, adjusted for inflation, will grow by 287 per cent over the next two decades, exports by 119 per cent.
Innovations in air surveillance and satellite monitoring can help shipping companies to keep track of their vessels, but in recent years the security equipment industry has presented a number of other technical solutions to the significant challenge of protecting sea lanes. These range from sensitive radar systems to detect pirates at close range, floodlighting, night-vision and heat cameras to acoustic and visual alarm systems, and acoustic defence systems.
Whilst a few installations have addressed the requirement in the short, medium and longer term, others were a response to a specific recent attack and often addressed only one form of protection.
Erudite papers have been written addressing the 'requirement' for protection of goods and people at sea, but it boils down to three things: what is the threat?; what is the risk?; and, what money is available to reduce the threat?
In the past, shipping companies have been reluctant to spend money on reducing the threat, arguing it is a government responsibility, and indeed governments and public bodies do provide naval patrols, intelligence and guidance to seafarers. More recently, some maritime trading states have begun to understand the fragility of supply chain trade and the potential effects of disruption to key commodities such as fuel supplies.
Whilst far-sighted shipping firms have begun to appreciate the need to provide their own protection, the source of funding can be more problematic. In broad terms, it comes from reduced insurance premiums, tauter rerouting to save fuel costs or, in some cases, government subsidy.
The marine insurance market is fiercely competitive, but until recently cheaper premiums have not covered the cost of installing anti-piracy equipment. We are now at a pivotal point however where suppliers have begun to offer a 'total technical solution' they say can be justified by complementary reductions in insurance and fuel savings.
The components are identified using the advantages of layered situation-awareness that has evolved in defence and aerospace. That means detection through tracking, followed by identification and then response, with the whole system formulated around the well-proven principle that sensors provide the necessary information for the right response to take place as long as human beings remain central to the decision process.
From a technical viewpoint, the necessary infrastructure has a number of elements: reliable and secure communication between ship and shore, a defensive aids capability, an appropriate on-board suite of sensors, and an appropriately trained crew and command team.
On top of that, successful implementation requires a 'spearhead entity' responsible for providing the necessary contracting conduit. This entity will also be responsible for understanding and practising a through-life solution, giving systems of systems integration across the piece, and adding an explicit and proven understanding of the inter-relationship between threat, risk and implementation.
We seafarers are a rum lot. Some of us have braved everything the oceans can throw at us and endured long periods away from families. Now we need the help of engineering and technology to defeat terrorism.
Malcolm Warr is technical director of SAMI, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (www.seasecurity.org)
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