Sea Transportation: June 12, 2002

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International piracy is rising. Twice as many ships were hijacked in 2001 as in 2000, and the overall number of attacks reach 335 (a recent record). Pirates typically use speedboats to catch freighters and automatic weapons to overpower or murder the crew. Crews are sometimes held for ransom or left on deserted islands. Some corrupt officials of various governments will provide pirates with new documentation for ships, effectively giving them new identities. The traditional problem areas (Somalia and Indonesia) have been joined by many others, including Nigeria, Angola, Guinea, Senegal, Brazil, Tanzania, Columbia, China, Thailand, India, and others. Commercial freighters get by with the smallest crews possible to save money and increase profits. As most of their time is spent miles from shore or any other ship, there is only rarely any kind of "lookout in the crow's nest" watching for approaching trouble. Adding a couple of crewmen to a ship to stand armed watch against pirates is cheap compared to the cost of a stolen ship, but given the vast number of ships at sea, the odds on being one of the 335 attacked are amazingly low. In view of the War on Terrorism, piracy is a growing problem. Analysts are concerned that terrorists could steal a freighter, load it with explosives (or something worse), and sail it into a US harbor. The actual number of commandoes needed to take over a freighter is amazingly small (fewer than ten). Ship owners concerned about this have begun hiding small battery-powered transponders in their ships. These continually broadcast their location, allowing stolen ships to be tracked. These shiploc systems are also hidden in containers with particularly valuable cargo. The US ordered all US-flagged ships to install these by 2008, but after 9/11 ordered this deadline moved up to 2004. The US is pressuring other countries to impose similar rules, but there will always be thousands of ships that do not have them.--Stephen V Cole

 


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