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ReCAAP Conference addresses emerging threats to shipping

Written by Thomas Timlen 
May 5th 2017
Written by Thomas Timlen
On 27 April 2017 the ReCAAP ISC held it’s Piracy and Sea Robbery Conference as part of the Singapore Maritime Week programme under the theme, “Changing Trends of Maritime Piracy and Armed Robbery in Asia”. The CSO Alliance was represented at the event by Asia Ambassador Thomas Timlen.

The half-day event included IMO’s views on global piracy trends and emerging threats, ReCAAP’s update on activities within Asia, an update by the Philippine Coast Guard on the abduction of crew and related initiatives to suppress this risk, and BIMCO’s advice on cyber security and available preventative measures.

Representatives from the Federation of ASEAN Shipowners’ Associations and INTERTANKO joined the aforementioned speakers for a panel discussion.

The presentations and related discussions considered the evolving trends that have been witnessed in Asia. Whilst hot spots for piracy and armed robbery have shifted geographically, the nature of crimes committed have also changed. During the past ten years there has been a variation of attacks involving different types of vessels. As progress was made in suppressing traditional piracy and robbery activity, pirates and crime syndicates turned their attention to the hijacking of tugs and barges. As that sector hardened its defences and saw a welcome decline of hijackings, tankers then became victimised by hijackers whilst fuel siphoning cases saw an increase. Subsequently as these incidents were addressed with a welcome drop in frequency, the abduction of crew in the Sulu and Celebes sea saw a disturbing increase. With crew abductions, the activity progressed from incidents initially involving crew of tugs and fishing boats to the recent abductions of crew on conventional merchant ships.

Meanwhile, cyber threats to merchant shipping loom on the horizon as several stakeholders strive to raise awareness amongst shipping staff on shore and at sea in an effort to minimize the industry’s exposure to hackers’ potential misdeeds.

The conference did achieve several goals. Participants were reminded of useful sources of information ranging from ReCAAP’s updates to the IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS). The IMO’s Christopher Trelawny pointed out that the piracy statistics found in GISIS is a compilation of reports from multiple sources. GISIS also offers users a flexible analysis tool capable of generating risk maps, charts and graphics based on users’ customised parametres.

Participants also learned of initiatives taken by the Philippines to counter the threat of crew abduction. On the ground military forces have taken the fight to the groups behind the kidnappings, whilst engaging with local communities in the affected areas in order to gain their cooperation. The Coast Guard has also arranged consultative meetings aimed at identifying and implementing operational solutions, such as enhanced communication capabilities.

Whilst there have been some delays in regard to establishing formalized joint patrols with the Indonesian and Malaysian navies in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, the Philippines expects to see progress in this area soon.

In response to a question raised by the CSOA, participants learned that for the time being, only Philippine passenger ferries can seek the services of Sea Marshals. Merchant ships entering these waters are encouraged to report to the Philippine and Malaysian contact points. The communications details for such reporting are available in ReCAAP’s weekly reports. Such reporting enables naval assets to respond more quickly in the event of suspicious activity as well as actual attacks.

Prior to the panel discussion BIMCO’s Philip Tinsley reminded participants of the evolving cyber risks and the consequences that could arise from complacency. The industry guidelines on cyber security onboard ships produced and supported by BIMCO, CLIA, ICS, INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO are expected to be updated in the summer of 2017 with new chapters to cover insurance, the use of personal devices on board and a new annex addressing technical advice for system administrators.

For cyber security, current challenges include the lack of a central reporting entity, a general reluctance amongst companies to report cyber breaches and the resulting lack of indicators to monitor and assess cyber crime activity in the maritime sector. Tinsley pointed out that some progress with reporting is hoped for as organisations such as CSOA are working towards the establishment of structured reporting mechanisms.

The conference presentations are available from the ReCAAP website: www.recaap.org