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Crime Prevention and Piracy on the High Seas

CrimBrief The Official Blog of the AIC

4 March 2014

AIC Research officer Willow Bryant has just co-published in this month’s Journal of Transportation Security an article on Preventing maritime pirate attacks. Willow and her co-authors, Dr Michael Townsley and Dr Benoit Leclerc (School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University), analysed hundreds of attacks, both successful and unsuccessful – from data collected and released in International Maritime Bureau Annual Reports from 2010–2011, to examine what security measures worked best.  

The UK Maritime Trade Operations recommends a range of defensive techniques for “ships transiting high risk areas” to thwart pirate attacks. These ship protection and situational measures have developed incrementally, based on experience and data collected by international military forces.

After hundreds of serious incidents in the past decade (between 2003 and 2008, 1,845 attacks have occurred), piracy in the Gulf of Aden and along the waters of the east coast of Africa has declined somewhat due to a massive international policing operation. But attacks still occur there, have increased and displaced to other African waters such as the Gulf of Guinea and increased around the waters of South East Asia – some on the petty end of the criminal scale such as armed robbery from yachts, and some which are massive – such as the hijacking and ransoming of cargo ships mostly off the Somalian coast.   
The research consisted of 452 cases of pirate attacks on travelling ships which were coded and analysed by the authors using “conjunctive analysis” where combinations of variables were cross-referenced and compared. When the numbers were crunched, results strongly suggested the specific use of Watch Keeping and Enhanced Vigilance, and in conjunction with these combinations of, Evasive Manoeuvring, Alarms, Increase Ship Speed and the Presence of Guards dramatically increased the chances of beating the pirates. Over 96% of 250 attacks were thwarted with various combinations of these protective variables.    

HMAS Melbourne's boarding party intercepts a suspected pirate boat  

HMAS Melbourne's boarding party intercepts a suspected pirate boat. Photo credit:

It was clear that ships which fell victim to pirates may not have had discrete look-outs and prescribed vigilance in their 24 hour work-shifts. This guardianship allows for swift identification of a pirate vessel approaching and time to alert guards on board or prepare anti-boarding foam guns for defence of the vessel.              

This result strongly supports the adoption of ship protection measures recommended by the International Maritime Organisation to prevent piracy.

shoulder patch worn by an Australia defence rep during anti-piracy  operations

Shoulder patch worn by an Australia defence rep during anti-piracy operations Photo credit: Colin Campbell

Posted: 4 March 2014 | | | | | |