Mr. Pilot

Thoughts on the act of piracy against M/V Mozart

04 February 2021 - 19:56 - Update: 06 February 2021 - 23:01

The container ship M/V MOZART, built in 2007, with a length of 222 meters was attacked by the pirates in the morning of 23.01.2021 at 07:36 GMT, 180 nautical miles off the South of Lagos Port, Nigeria, in the Gulf of Guinea, while sailing to its port of destination Cape Town Port in South Africa.

When it was found out that the pirate skiff was approaching to the ship, all the 19-person crew members went to the ship's steering room, which was previously determined as the sheltered area (citadel) of the ship. However, the pirates soon discovered the hiding place of the crew. In order to remove the crew, they managed to cut the watertight door, which was the only way to enter the citadel, by a angle grinder they brought with them, and they managed to make a hole in the door enough to put the barrel of a gun, and from there they started to fire randomly. During this fire, the second engineer of the ship, Azerbaijani citizen Farman İsmayilov, lost his life and the other crew members were injured. Thereupon, the crew had to open the hatch door and surrender.

The pirates aim to facilitate acts of piracy or to satisfy some kind of primitive vengeance by beating and abusing the crew members of the ships, who cause them trouble by hiding in the citadel. A similar incident took place here, and the pirates took 15 of the remaining 18 crew members away from the ship by battering, after one of them was killed. In the meantime, the pirates made the devices in the deckhouse of the ship unusable by destroying them while they spent 7-8 hours on board. According to the testimony of Furkan Yaren, the third officer of the ship, who managed to survive in the incident and hide from the pirates, only the radar remained on the ship as a navigational device. Satellite positioning receiver (GPS) has been made unusable by the pirates. Again, according to the statement of the 3rd Officer, there is a system in the company headquarters in London where they can track the position of the ship via satellite. Since the pirates could not find this transmitter on the ship, the ship continued on the route given to the ship from the company headquarters and reached Gabon, Port of Gentil in the morning hours of 24.01.2021 and managed to berth there.

Although it is not known how many pirates attacked the ship, it is known that there are usually groups of 6-8 pirates in such events. These groups reach their target ship with a boat mounted a outboard motor. In fact, these boats, whose range is not very long, refuel from some other boats serving as fuel tankers left in certain areas in the bay. Otherwise, it is not possible for these boats to carry out such an operation 180 nautical miles offshore and store enough fuel in these small boats to return afterwards, they get their logistical support from pirate tankers.

All 15 crew members who all of them are citizens of the Republic of Turkey, including the ship's master, being brought to shore, it is estimated that they were forcibly detained in the land dominated by pirates in Cameroon. Pirates will contact them to release forcibly detained sailors and report the amount of ransom they want; There will probably be negotiations on ransom between the pirates and the shipowner and/or the P&I insurer.

Gulf of Guinea: New Center for Piracy

The report prepared by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce reveals that the piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea have reached new levels in 2020 and later in 2021. According to IMB's report, crew abductions in the area constitutes 95% of crew abductions in the world. There were 135 crew abductions around the world in 2020. The Gulf of Guinea is responsible for 95% of this figure on its own. The maritime industry has called on the Nigerian Government to take military measures to reduce this increase in pirate attacks and kidnappings on the West African coast. "The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has reached a level that requires the deployment of effective military capacity," said Aslak Ross, head of Maritime Standards at the Copenhagen-based Maersk. In 2021, a new attack occurred on a Maersk ship, and the same container ship was attacked twice within 4 hours.

A total of 195 piracy and armed robberies in 2020 indicate a significant increase compared to the 162 pirate attacks in 2019. In the Gulf of Guinea, the incidents of piracy and armed robbery increased greatly in 2020, 3 ships were kidnapped, 11 were opened fire by pirates, 20 attack attempts were made and 161 ships were borded by pirates in the region during the year. This increase, occurring only in the Gulf of Guinea, has been an important factor that triggered the increase of pirate attacks on ships globally. Apart from the Gulf of Guinea, the armed robberies in Singapore and the piracy incidents in the Malaka Strait have also played a role in the escalation of global ship piracy incidents.

In 2020, a total of 135 crew abductions were carried out by pirates around the world, and more than 95% of these kidnapped crew members occurred in the Gulf of Guinea with 130 people kidnapping in 22 separate incidents. Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea has had multiple kidnappings, with 39 kidnappings in two separate incidents in the last quarter of 2019 alone. According to the IMB report, "Events in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous as more than 80% of the attackers are armed". Piracy seems to be developing rapidly in the region as an increasingly powerful illegal sector.

All three cases of hijacking and Nine (9) of the eleven (11) ships that were opened fire in 2020 consisted of ships sailing in this area. Abductions have been reported in 25% of ship attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, well above the piracy/kidnapping rates in other parts of the world. As it can be understood from here, in the Gulf of Guinea, pirates primarily aim to kidnap the crew of the ships and consequently receive ransom.

This increase in numbers also shows how far pirates of the region have progressed in their piracy activities. For this reason, IMB recommended ships to stay 250 nautical miles off from shore until cargo operations begin. It is known that the naval forces in the region are trying to make an emergency response, but they are inadequate. The attacks prompted insurers to increase the fares of ships transiting through the area and to add extra clauses for protection. Hull and Machinery insurance does not cover kidnapping and ransom expenses, and they developed the "Kidnapping and Ransom" clause, which is written briefly as K&R for these expenses. In most abduction scenarios, perpetrators requested that victims refrain from reporting to other parties. They did not want the shipowner or the family to contact the insurance company. Therefore, many P&R policies include a specific notification clause. Employer or the families of the abducted crew are required to notify the insurer and the police of a kidnapping only when it is safe. When the pirates made contact, the insurer takes immediate action, employing experts to assist in the release of abducted persons. This assistance includes meeting with kidnappers, ransom delivery, evacuation and proper care. However, the ransom is not paid directly by the insurer. Instead, the employer or the families have to pay or borrow it. K&R policies often include interest on money borrowed for this purpose. When the crisis is over, the insurer compensates the policyholder for the ransom and related costs. If the total costs go beyond a certain limit, the policyholder is responsible for covering the additional costs.

Even shipping giants like Maersk, which control 15% of global freight transport, have expressed concern about the increased cost and high insurance for ships passing through West Africa. While West Africa attacks initially concentrated off Nigeria, they are also concentrated off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon. Pirates operate with the comfort of being at almost zero risk of being caught in a region where lawlessness is rampant.

It is estimated that around 15 gangs each consist of 20-50 members operate in the seas off West Africa region. Pirates hold hostages for ransom at a regional powerhouse where rescue operations can easily be prevented. Nigeria has planned to increase its search operations in this region by commissioning approximately $200 million of new equipment, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, in 2021. However, it suggests that the problem can be solved by a long-term solution and by improving employment opportunities in poor coastal areas. According to BIMCO's head of maritime security Jakob Larsen, within the territorial waters of the regional states, that is up to 12 nautical miles off the coast, deploying two or three frigates equipped with helicopters could reduce piracy in the region. However, this is highly unlikely as shipping is not that important for the east coast of Africa. There are very few international requests to interfere with the security problems of Nigeria sea route.

What is piracy? Should we say piracy or banditry?

Piracy is defined in Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Accordingly, piracy defines all kinds of illegal acts, seizures and robberies encountered by the crew or passengers of a privately owned vessel, against themselves or their property on the high seas, or acts that inciting or of intentionally facilitating these illegal acts.

In other words, the main factor to define an illegal act as piracy is the location it took place:  the "high seas". "High Seas", again according to UNCLOS, are sea areas that fall outside of the territorial or archipelagic waters or the exclusive economic zone of a coastal or archipelagic state. Robbery, hostage taking, abduction, seizure etc. events in high seas are defined as "Piracy".

Similar events taking place in other sea areas are called "Armed Robbery".

To make it short, and according to the definition of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the robbery or hijacking incidents occurring in the "High Seas" is defined as "Piracy", and the robbery and/or hijacking in the maritime jurisdiction areas  of a country should be called as "Armed Roberry".

However, there is no consensus on these definitions. Many serious sources emphasize that piracy is an activity aimed at seizing the merchant ships of enemy states by force, which is allowed to be carried out by a state, and it should not be confused with the acts of independent piracy for robbery that are not under the auspices of a state.

The piracy carried out with the approval of the state is called as "Privateering". "Privateers" can be defined as private warships that are permitted by the State to operate in a certain region with a written document. The emergence of the concept of "Privatieers", which is defined as piracy, is in the 16th century. Towards the end of the 1500s, many "pirate ships" authorized by Britain to damage the commercial activities of Spain caused great damage to the merchant ships going from Spain to America, and this is why the first "Anglo-Saxon War" broke out. During the American Revolution in the late 1700s, the American Government authorized many merchant ships "Pirate (Privateer)"; according to estimates, 55,000 sailors served on these Pirate ships. Colonial administrations also gave Piracy authority to attack British ships. It is known that American pirates captured approximately 300 British ships during this period.

In the action known as piracy and translated into Turkish as ''Sea Banditry''; there are relatively independent cases of hijacking and robbery that are not done with a specific appointment. The word "Piracy" is etymologically from "Pirata" in Latin; It comes from the word "peiratēs", which means "bandit", used in ancient Greek. Therefore, although the word "Piracy" is confused with the word "Privateering" today; Translating it into our language (Turkish) as "Sea Baditry" reflects the true meaning of the word.

However, the distinction between "privateering" and "piracy" is not that clear in real life. In terms of the action taken; The fact that the right to seizure has been granted "by a state's letter" does not make much sense in terms of its results. The resulting action; It is an attack on an unarmed and merchant ship which is unable to defense itself. For this reason, it is not possible to establish an healthy relationship to choose worst one between piracy and privateering, considering the ethical values of the 21st century.

The First Pirates Destroyed the Hittite Kingdom

There have been pirate attacks that brought the end of the Hittites, which was a great empire in Anatolia since the 1800s B.C. This great civilization and empire was destroyed by warriors called "Sea People" that appeared suddenly in the 1200s B.C. So much so that Hittite historians could not even find the time to write this event on clay tablets. The only document survived to date is from the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III: “… suddenly the states collapsed and fell apart. No country could stand against their weapons: Hatti, Kizzuwatna, Kargamis, Arzawa, Alasiya… " On the Hittite tablets, from the mouth of King Suppiluliyama we find the following information; "... I quickly reached the sea, I, the Great King of Suppiluliyama. And with me the ships of Alasiya (= enemies who took Cyprus) fought three times in the middle of the sea. I caught the ships and set them on fire in the middle of the sea and destroyed them. However, when I returned to the shore, the enemies of Alasiya came to war with me in droves and I defeated them… ” However, the pirates' revenge later became painful. It is accepted today that the Hittites were destroyed by ''Sea Peoples'' or "Sea Tribes''. The pirate peoples that destroyed the Hittite Kingdom later attacked Egypt as well. Although Egypt suffered great losses, it was relatively able to bear with these attacks.

In the 1300's B.C.; Lesvos island which was resisting Greek activity, was a paradise for Thracian pirates. It is known that the Phoenicians, turned to piracy with their ships from time to time and sold the men and women they captured as slaves.

The pirates captured Julius Caesar and left him with a ransom...

The pirates, who dominated the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1st century B.C, caused great damage to the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, who traveled in the Aegean Sea in 75 B.C, was kidnapped and taken hostage by the Cilician pirates. Pirates; by capturing Julius Caesar's ship, kidnapped the emperor and his subordinates to Pharmaconisi Island near Kardak. The pirates received a ransom of 20,000 US dollars from the Roman Empire in today's currency. During his 6 weeks of captivity Julius Caesar maintained good relations with the pirates. He played sports with them, participated in their games, and even told them that they could be hanged for abducting them. Julius Caesar was released after the ransom was paid and he was taken to the mainland near Miletus by pirates. His first act was to return with warships and catch all the pirates who kidnapped him. All of the pirates were caught and taken to Bergama, where they were crucified and executed. The Romans actively fought piracy after this date.

Piracy in North Africa

Some of the Berber pirates who ruled in North Africa in the Middle and Modern Age were "Privatieers", who did these acts with a permit, and some were ‘’Pirates’’ which is translated into Turkish as ''Sea bandits''. They weren't giving no respite to the merchant fleets in the Western Mediterranean, which includes the so-called Berber Beaches of Tunisia, Tripoli, Algeria and Morocco. The ships they attacked were the ships that went to the Crusades or the merchant ships sailed around Africa to the Far East. While the coastal towns and cities of Italy and Spain were almost emptied due to these attacks that lasted until the 19th century, Berber pirates who spread out of the Mediterranean expanded their attack areas to Iceland. According to Robert Davis, between the 16th and 19th centuries, approximately 1 million 250 thousand Europeans were captured by the Pirates and sold to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire as slaves. Some of the Berber pirates who ruled in North Africa in the Middle and Modern Ages were "Privatieers", who did these acts with a permit, and some were Pirates which is translated into Turkish as ''sea bandits''. The US Supreme Court treating the Berber pirates they captured as "war criminals" means; the piracy that took place in North Africa and the Mediterranean at that time was not "piracy" in today's sense; It reveals — in a legal sense — that it is “authorized piracy”; “Privatieering”.

What should the captain do when a pirate boat is encountered?

Mümtaz Temeltaş, master of the Karagöl ship, which was kidnapped last year; had kept the two pirate boats attacking his ship engaged for a long time with the maneuvers he made. Temeltaş said that by giving his ship full speed ahead and with sudden movements by ordering ''hard to starboard'' and ''hard to port'' one after another, he made sank one of the pirate boats from the waves. Of course, as the price of this the angry pirates opened fire to the ship as fusillade. However, Mümtaz Kaptan says; "If we had weapons to defend ourselves, we would definitely not surrender to them."

Putting weapons or armed men on ships is one of the solutions that come to mind against piracy. There are also shipping companies that do this. However; this is not generally accepted advice. Although it is true that having weapons on board will have a deterrent effect against pirates; having weapons on board is not a preferred solution because of the drawbacks related to the port of destination and the order within the ship. Maritime companies are more likely to prefer to cruise around the Cape of Good Hope instead of pass through the Suez Canal on Far East routes. For this reason, decrease in Egypt's channel crossings causes financial loss to Egypt.

Every captain should make a plan according to the specifications of his ship as to what the ship can do on its own to protect it from pirates. While making this plan, one should consider the speed of the ship and the height of the freeboard. The plan should include the route of the sea area to which the ship will arrive, because the best way to be protected from pirates is undoubtedly not to be seen.

If it is unavoidable for the ship to cross the Somali coast, the captain should draw a clear off shore route from the coast as much as possible. At the same time, he must accelerate his ship to maximum speed while passing through this area. Pirates also attacked ships that passed 200 miles off the coast; Therefore, it may seem that clear route is not the definitive solution, but it will greatly reduce the risk. Because even though the pirates have large boats, which they call "mother ships", it is relatively more difficult for them to attack the ships far away of the coast.

When the pirates approach to the ship they will attack, they move to the target ship with fast boats with small stern engine mounted named "skiff", which are kept ready on the board of the mother ship, and they climb to the target ship with the hooks they throw after coming alongside of the it. In order for the ship to take timely action, it must be constantly good at scouting and identifying pirate boats at an early stage. When approaching boats are seen, the ship should be raised to the full speed possible. When the boats approach, trying to create waves with rudder maneuvers will leave small boats in a difficult situation and prevent them from easily aboard the ship. In addition, as the ship will save time with these maneuvers, it may be possible for boats with small fuel tanks to be eliminated. Pirates always carry out their attacks during the daytime. For this reason, if possible, according to the latest reports, the regions where the risk of piracy is most intense, should be passed at night.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has also published a guide on what to do. In this guide published as MSC Circular numbered 1334 on June 23, 2009; the following measures are recommended:

1- Do not carry large sums of cash on board: The ship's safe box is always attractive to pirates.

2- Shutting down the AIS: This may be a precaution, but take into account that ships coming for assistance will not be able to see your AIS information.

3- The crew should keep their mouth tight in the port: It may be inconvenient for the crew to talk around at the loading port about the voyage of the ship. Pirates have ears to the ground.

4- Smaller crew: The number of crew on the ships has decreased considerably today and this makes the job of pirates easier. While passing through risk areas, it may not be possible to watch for long periods with a small number of crew members. Shipowners should provide electronic tools to the ship to do this job.

5- Report it: When you identify pirate boats and there is a risk of attack to your ship, inform the nearest Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) and/or International Maritime Bureau (IMB) contact numbers. The message should be given with the appropriate communication tools, especially INMARSAT, with the codes "PAN PAN" Urgent Message "" All Stations ".

6- Various tools and precautions: In addition to equipment such as a board net, wire rope, electric fence protection, long-weave acoustic devices, you may also consider having special security personnel on board while passing through high-risk areas.

7- Squeezing pressurized water: Spraying pressurized water on pirates while they are trying to climb the ship can be preventive.

According to the IMO Document, if it is understood that the pirates cannot be prevented from embarking despite all preventive efforts, all crew members must move to security positions. In the meantime, sound and light signals should be continued in order to be seen by the neighboring ships, and all audible alarm systems on the ship should be activated.

What should the seafarer captured by pirates do?

There is a UN Guide on this subject in the circlar of the MSC Circular mentioned above. This guide gives advice on what the one who is taken hostage to do. According to the guide, the first 15-45 minutes after being taken hostage is the "most dangerous" period. Captives are in a reactive state between "fighting and running away", and what the captured person has to do is to try to survive. The anxiety felt by the captive at the first moment will decrease when he starts to grasp his situation. The best thing to do is not trying to be hero but accepting the situation. Experience shows that people who show rigidity when captured are at higher risk than those who act passively.

It is important that the hostages to obey what the pirates say and to be careful about what to say, as well as their body language. Short and simple answers should be given to the questions asked. He should listen more and not engage in discussion. He should be careful when making suggestions to the pirates, it should not be forgotten that if a situation arises that the pirates do not want, they will look for a responsible.

The seamen captured by the pirates, to give an unobtrusive view of what is going on around them and spend their time sleeping and reading books if possible, will psychologically distract them from their environment. During this period, "thinking positively" is important for protecting mental health. It will be useful to do daily exercises, create a program and comply with it. Loss of appetite is common in captives. However, at least try to drink water and remember that the body must stay strong. Approaches against pirates should not be undertaken such that they will be asked to account for this later. In the event of an operation by the security forces against the pirates on board, they should lie on the ground and the hands should be clasped behind the head. Whenever possible, the seaman should introduce himself.

Rehabilitation of sea persons rescued from the pirates

The duration of held by the pirates is not less than 2 months. Usually, this situation creates a trauma for seafarers who are taken captive by pirates for a long time. Again, as stated in the UN Guide, after the hostages are liberated, they need to tell every detail of their stories. The mental problems of the hostages who survived the pirates may not appear immediately. Regardless, the recovery of the hostages' mental state after the incident is a slow process that requires patience and understanding. The healing process can begin the moment the person begins to react normally to an abnormal event and feels like a normal person.

Importance of MRCCs

IMO has approved the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR) in 1979 in order to create an international coordinated system for the search and rescue of persons in danger at sea, and the said convention entered into force in 1985. The structure of Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers (MRCCs), coastal coordination procedures and cooperation methods of neighboring states for SAR operations at regional level are determined by this convention. MRCC has been established in our country to help people in danger at sea and to carry out SAR operations. This center operates under the name of AAKKM (Main Search and Rescue Coordination Center) in Ankara under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.

AAKKM, upon the calls from the ships; if the events of the SAR in the marine environment where Turkey is responsible, Turkish authorities and these authorities' sea search-and-rescue and aid opportunities will be mobilized; if the incident occurred in another state's SAR area or in international waters, AAKKM provides support to the nearby coastal states to contact the relevant MRCC headquarters to assist them in distressing vessels.

Marine Rescue Coordination Centers (MRCC's), which are the only and inevitable connection of seafarers with land, have been defined by IMO as piracy warning centers and have become a part of the fight against maritime piracy acts.

AAKKM in Turkey has carried out extremely successful operations in providing the necessary assistance and coordination by immediately detecting the incidents such as piracy and armed robbery of Turkish flagged or Turkish crewed vessels. Perhaps we can expect the authorities to improve their effectiveness further in these studies by elevating them to a higher level in the hierarchical sense. ν

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