Jones Act- Maritime Piracy Overview

When most people envision a pirate, he’s most likely a rum-loving, anti-hero with a charming swagger. Unfortunately, for mariners across the globe, modern-day pirates are far more fearsome. Often organized, armed with automatic weapons and fast vessels, these pirates will attempt to take down any vessel they view as a relatively valuable, yet easy target.

As a maritime employee, your job is inherently dangerous due to a variety of factors, including hazardous weather, dangerous cargo, potentially malfunctioning rigging and other equipment that can create deadly situations. Piracy adds yet another level of danger to your job. If you are injured in the course of your work due to pirate attacks, you are protected under maritime laws, such as the Jones Act or international admiralty laws.

High-Risk Areas for Maritime Piracy

With the advent of internet and mariner’s forums, we are more able to report pirate sightings and attacks in as close to real-time as it gets. Currently, maritime piracy is concentrated in Southeast Asia and Indian Sub-Continents, Africa and the Red Sea, South and Central America and the Caribbean Waters.

Modern Day Pirate Attacks

Recent reports of maritime piracy have been reported in:

  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Malacca Straits
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore Straits
  • The South China Sea
  • Vietnam
  • Benin
  • Guinea
  • Ivory Coast
  • Nigeria
  • The Congo
  • Togo
  • Red Sea/Somalia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru

In 2016, there were 191 reported piracy events, according to the International Commercial Crime Services. Vessels that are frequently targets of pirate attacks include crude oil tankers, product tankers, chemical tankers, offshore supply ships, container ships and bulk carriers.

Nigerian Piracy

Nigeria has become a hotbed of pirate activity in recent years. This may be due to a number of factors, including robust trade routes through nearby waters, increased poverty in the area and a general lack of enforcement activity on the part of the Nigerian government.

Nigerian pirates are well armed and extremely violent. Reports have shown that they have boarded ships, ransacked them and either kidnapped or killed the individuals on board. They are usually after oil and other forms of fuel, including diesel and LPG, and have been known to attack vessels up to 170 nm offshore.

What to Do in the Event of a Pirate Attack

There are few things imaginable that are more frightening that falling victim to a pirate attack on the high seas. If you do suspect that your vessel is under imminent attack by pirates, there are a few things you can do to come out of the attack unscathed. Consider:

  • informing the closest Coast Guard authority of the approaching pirates
  • speed up – many pirate attacks can be averted if you can go faster than 18 kts
  • take evasive action by creating a heavy wake or throwing out floating lines that may foul their props
  • gather crew together in a safe place if pirates board your vessel
  • follow their demands

Best Practices: Avoiding Pirate Attacks

There may be no guarantees that you can avoid a pirate attack, but you can do your best to plan and prepare in the event that one happens. The best advice that we can give is to implement the recommendations in the Best Management Practices Against Somalia Based Piracy (BMPs). Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Avoiding pirate prone areas altogether, if possible
  • Keeping a keen watch using radar and multiple live watch keepers when in pirate-infested waters
  • Maintain high speeds, over 18 kts
  • Use of non-lethal deterrents

Protecting Maritime Workers

Maritime laws protect seamen who are injured in pirate attacks. U.S. seamen may be protected outside of U.S. waters by the Jones Act. If you are injured in a pirate attack, you are entitled to:

  • maintenance and cure benefits
  • possible compensatory damages due to the negligence of your employer
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