The Zafirah, an oil tanker that was recently raided by pirates, should serve as a serious warning to any shipping vessels traveling across Southeast Asian waters. The cumbersome tanker was in South Vietnamese waters travelling at a crawl
ing pace when it was boarded by a group of 11 armed pirates, who quickly set the 9 member crew adrift in a lifeboat and made off with the entire ship.
Fortunately, the crew was eventually rescued and the pirates were swiftly brought to justice thanks to a rapid response and cooperative effort from Vietnamese police.
But the tactics of the pirates are all-too-familiar– they approached the vessel, which was traveling no faster than 12 knots (14 mph), in a small skiff and used the low cargo-deck to easily board the ship. Wielding machetes and pistols, they quickly forced the crew into two lifeboats and left them to drift. They were eventually spotted off the port city Vung Tau in southern Vietnam.
After stealing the ship full of marine gas oil, the crew quickly moved to change the ship’s markings. They changed the name and International Marine Organization ID number, hoping they could unload the shipment before
the ship was reported and their alterations recognized.
Fortunately, thanks to excellent cooperation and communication between marine rescuers and local Vietnamese police, the pirates were tracked down and after a brief standoff, all arrested.
Although local responses to resurgent pirates in the Southeast Asian region can be good, like in this case, the presence of pirate attacks period is very damaging to the shipping industry. Not only do companies risk losing their cargo, employees and ships, but they are forced to pay extra insurance if they travel pirate-infested waters.
As the price of remains high, slow moving tankers are especially easy, yet lucrative targets– because of the small distance between their deck and the water pirates can effortlessly scale the hull. They then take the oil and sell it for below-market prices on a floating black market.
To combat the threat that shipping industry insiders say is only increasing, many companies have taken to contracting private security firms that specialize in counter-piracy and maritime security.
There are also an increasing number of companies making defensive equipment to make ships less-than-easy targets for pirates. Ship captains have affixed barbed wire to their hulls, equipped their staff with bulletproof vests and even set up “scare-pirate” dummies to look like extra crew.
The shipping industry even puts out a best-practices pamphlet recommending certain counter-piracy tactics. Some involve putting up mesh wiring to discourage RPG attacks, steam jet nozzles to scalding climbing pirates and strategic placement of sand bags near easy-boarding spots.
Above all, one of the best recommendations is to travel fast– pirates are much less likely to attempt a raid if a boat is traveling at a high speed. Of course, if you’re a slow vessel shipping oil, this may be impossible, so it’s good to have a full knowledge of all the options available.
Some ships have recently installed panic-rooms, known as citadels, where the crew can seal themselves in. However, this passive resistance leads to a “what next?” question. Furthermore, pirates don’t easily take no for an answer– they have been known to rig C4 to the outside of the citadel and blast their way in, or fire indiscriminately into the walls, hoping a bullet will pass through and strike a target.
Although Asian pirate attacks aren’t quite as deadly or violent as ones experienced off the coast of Africa, their resurgence is disturbing nonetheless. While local governments have agreed to work together to police the waters, many shipping companies have not decided to wait and are taking matters into their own hands.