7 things you need to know about piracy right now

Sea piracy has dropped to a 21-year low

But yachts still need to remain vigilant

Piracy and armed robbery at sea has dropped to its lowest level since 1995, according to a recent report by the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau. The study found that there were 98 such incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 during the same period last year.

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau, said: “This drop in world piracy is encouraging news. Two main factors are recent improvements around Indonesia, and the continued deterrence of Somali pirates off East Africa.” However, he added that all vessels need to remain vigilant and maintain a high level of anti-piracy security.

Read on to learn six more things you need to know about yacht piracy right now.

Indonesia is stamping down on piracy

South East Asian incidents decline in 2016

In its July 2016 report, the International Maritime Bureau praised Indonesia’s efforts to stamp out piracy, after incidents in the region fell by 56% when comparing January-June 2016 with the same period in 2015.

The international body praised the quick response of the Indonesian navy to a hijacking off West Kalimantan in May, when nine pirates were appended without any crew casualties. “This is exactly the type of robust response required in response to such threats,” the International Maritime Bureau added.

Earlier this year, the Indonesian government announced several policy changes aimed at increasing superyacht visits, with a view to attracting more yachts to remote destinations like the Raja Ampat archipelago (pictured above).

The piracy High Risk Area off Somalia has been reduced

But don't relax your security measures

As of October 2015, the High Risk Area (HRA) in East Africa has been reduced in size, with the Eastern limit shrinking from 078ºE to 065ºE. However, the old HRA zone is still a “voluntary reporting area” and vessels still need to proceed with caution.

The message from maritime security companies currently is: do not let your guard down if travelling in the famously dangerous waters off Somalia, because the risk of piracy hasn't been stamped out.

"Although the reduction of the HRA should be welcomed, it is important not to over emphasise the significance of this event," says Phil Cable, CEO of MAST, Maritime Asset Security and Training Ltd. "There is, of course, a clear link between these changes to the HRA and the reduction in threat in the Indian Ocean, but caution and a sense of perspective must be exercised before assuming that the area is free from risk."

According to MAST, the current catchphrase among military circles is that 'piracy is suppressed, not eradicated'. "Somali piracy remains a possibility in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and southern Red Sea, and the indications are that given the right opportunity, they will return to the kidnap and ransom business model that served them so well from 2008 to 2012," Cable says. "Fundamentally, as a yacht owner one should regard the high seas as an area where self-help and protection need to remain firmly in focus."

What this means in practical terms is that you are likely to see a reduction in any additional war risk premium on your yacht insurance. But it's important to note that insurance companies won't give yachts this "war" coverage, as it's known, unless a vessel has taken on security. We advise you speak to your insurance broker for specific advice on how this impacts your policy.

Yachts are easy targets for pirate attacks

You need to get the right gear to protect yours

Yachts are intrinsically more vulnerable to pirate attacks, so it's important to know the most susceptible areas on board and how to protect them. "A yacht has always been inherently more vulnerable than a commercial ship due to its relatively low freeboard and perceived high value," Phil Cable of MAST says.

Superyachts designed with huge swim platforms that give easy access to the water for guests to swim and board tenders will also give easy access to potential attackers. "The problem is, yachts are designed for easy access," says David Goldie, general manager of superyacht security company of Akula Yachts. "There are big swim platforms, lots of glass that's not bulletproof, glass sliding doors into the owner's suite. Superyachts are designed as pleasure craft, not designed with armed threat in mind, so they are easy targets."

Another issue is how fast the yacht travels – some superyachts only reach a maximum speed of 17 knots, while the pirates' skiffs can run at 35 to 40 knots.

Yachts can armour themselves by getting internal covers for large windows or buy ballistic film, which Goldie describes as being like a cling film that makes windows bullet proof. Barbed wire, strobe lights and sound alarm deterrents are also used to keep attackers at bay.

Photo by Troy Thompson

Your crew needs to be trained for pirate attacks

Your biggest threat could be complacency in crew

"To protect the interests of guests and crew, all personnel on board should be given some training in conduct after capture. While kidnap and ransom might seem like a remote possibility, conduct after capture also teaches personnel conflict resolution, thus preparing them for any situation which might turn violent – such as an armed robbery of the vessel," says Gerry Northwood of MAST. "As has been seen many times, the wrong actions at the wrong time can easily result in injury or loss of life."

David Goldie of Akula agrees that the biggest danger to superyachts in terms of pirate attacks is crew complacency. "The weakest link is the crew. We want crew to be security aware and report the things they see," he says. "We'd rather someone report something and it turn out to be nothing."

Soon crew will have to be better trained in security, thanks to an update the standards of training certification and watchkeeping (STCW) requirements. The 2010 STCW Manila amendments will require crew to have additional security certification before December 31, 2016.

"All crew must be additionally trained in security awareness," says Goldie. "There's also a section on piracy awareness and what to look out for."

Carrying guns on board can prevent pirate attacks

Weapons act as a visual deterrent

"Pirates are looking for a soft target with no visible signs of additional security measures," says David Goldie of Akula Yachts.

One way to protect your yacht in unsafe waters is to be visibly armed – which can make all the difference in keeping your yacht safe, even if a shot is never fired. It's more important that a gun serves as a visual deterrence.

If your team go onto the deck and hold their weapons up overhead, it's a strong visual indication to pirates that they have taken additional security measures. "Pirates don't want to get into a firefight with trained personnel," Goldie says.

Of course, having guns on board can run into its own set of complications if yacht owners don't obey the laws of the land when they cruise into port, as we saw when guns were seized and guests arrested on luxury yacht in The Bahamas in August 2015. This a complex issue, and we advise you seek legal advice if you are considering taking arms on your superyacht.

You must do a full piracy risk assessment before any voyage

And research the company you're going to use

"It is very important that thorough risk assessments are periodically conducted for regular voyages, ports and anchorages," says Gerry Northwood of MAST. "These should be in-depth and seek to establish the type and likelihood of the prevailing criminal threat and the potential for a terrorist threat. This is especially important when making assessments for unfamiliar anchorages and passage plans."

Cable says that yacht piracy advice can be gleaned through dialogue with private security professionals or police who are familiar with the area you're travelling to. You can then act on these recommendations when planning your journey.

When it comes to hiring a security company to have on board, do your research. It's important to know that there are regulations on companies providing security: The IMO wanted to regulate the industry, and they tasked the ISO with introducing ISO/PAS 28007:2012, aka "Guidelines for Private Maritime Security Companies providing privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships."

David Goldie of Akula recommends finding a yacht security company early to get a dialogue going – and asking others who have done the journey before for recommendations on best security firms to use. "You can't beat word of mouth," he says.

Photo courtesy Spearfish

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