Jones Act Best Practices For Avoiding Pirate Attacks

Spotting a speeding vessel armed with rocket launchers in the distance is enough to make anyone’s blood run cold. You hope that it’s merely a government enforcement vessel coming to do a routine vessel check, but you know in your gut that these are pirates. Among all of the other hazards that you as a mariner must contend with, this is the most sinister. Like other hazards though, there are some ways to avoid falling prey to pirate attacks.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed what’s known as the BMP’s – Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy, to assist mariners in avoiding pirate attacks. While designed to avoid Somali Pirate attacks, the guidelines are appropriate for pirates in any waters. Here are their recommendations for how to avoid pirate attacks.

1. Do Not Be Alone

Mariners traveling in Somalian waters are advised to notify UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Operations in Dubai) and MSCHOA (Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa) to alert them of your plans and presence. If you are traveling in other waters known for pirate activity, seek out similar organizations to notify them of your presence. IMO also recommends traveling in a convoy, if possible and using prescribed transit corridors. While perhaps counter-intuitive, it is also recommended that you keep your AIS on so that friendly individuals or organizations may also keep track of your vessel. If possible, limit AIS information to the vessel’s identity, course, position, speed, and safety.

2. Do Not Be Detected

A number of organizations broadcast warnings for mariners, sometimes referred to as NAVWARNS to alert mariners of pirate activity. Keeping track of these warnings is critical to avoiding pirates. IMO also recommends that your vessel travel only with navigation lights to avoid showing off what your vessel is carrying.

3. Do Not Be Surprised

When traveling in waters with heavy pirate activity, maintain multiple lookouts and utilize radar and closed-circuit television as must as possible. Spotting pirate activity well in advance can increase your chances of survival. Some commanders shorted watch times in pirate waters to increase vigilance. Some have also placed dummies on deck to give the impression of a greater number of crew.

If you suspect a pirate attack, immediately activate emergency procedures throughout the ship and across radio channels 16 and 8. If present, activate distress signal on DSC and Inmarsat-C.

4. Do Not Be Vulnerable

Utilizing visible ship protection measures can deter and prevent pirate assaults. These measures can include things like:

  • razor wire (concertina is best)
  • high-powered fire hoses
  • foam monitors
  • steam guns
  • alarms
  • harmful sound generators
  • steel bars over windows and portholes

Additionally, providing extra security for the bridge and engine rooms can prevent pirates from hijacking the vessel if they are able to gain access to the deck. If possible, stocking Kevlar vests for key personnel can help avoid further fatalities and reduces instances of hijacking.

5. Do Not Be Boarded

If pirates are closing in, increase speeds to maximum available and use evasive maneuvering to create a difficult wake and avoid being boarded. Typical attacks involve two small skiffs with high horsepower engines that approach from abaft the beam. Some of these vessels can get up to 25 kts, so being able to outrun them or create wake that they cannot advance through is helpful in avoiding attack.

Vessels with freeboard less than 8 meters should consider additional protection at the lower points of the freeboard, including razor wire and water cannons.

6. Do Not Be Controlled

If pirates do manage to board your vessel, following pre-planned procedures can be life-saving. Have a pre-designated muster station for all crew. Consider hiring armed security professionals, if possible. Those ships that have been trained in advance to avoid pirate attacks have the greatest chance of survival.

If your vessel has fallen victim to a pirate attack, as soon as possible, alert the local authorities and other mariners. Both U.S. and International admiralty laws protect mariners who have been injured in pirate attacks.

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