Port security and the effect of piracy



Steven Jones, maritime director, The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI)


Much of the recent maritime security focus has been on antipiracy, and the problems off the Somali coast. The SAMI is a global focal point for maritime security matters. It sees that the impact of piracy on ports can be significant, and there are many knock-on effects of instability in an area, which can give rise to security concerns.

Already, there are ports which have felt a marked reduction in traffic around the areas affected by Somali pirates. Kenya appears to have suffered a drop in vessel traffic, but even where the traffic remains, there are potential problems.

Muscat, Oman appears to have become a popular port for pirates to target. There have been a number of attacks in which pirates have waited just out of port, attacking vessels at anchor and those heading into the port. While in the Yemen plans to expand the port of Aden have been affected by security concerns and redirected traffic.

Effects on countries and trade

Elsewhere others have voiced concern that piracy activities have severely affected trade and tourism sectors. The Tanzania People's Defence Forces has claimed that the flow of cargo ships at the Dar es Salaam Port has also been affected since pirates invaded the region in 2005. Data from the Tanzania Port Authority (TPA) shipping traffic department has highlighted a marked drop in vessels making port calls. Now of course global trade itself has changed since 2005, but with Africa considered a new hope for investment it seems that security has played almost as much a role in this drop as the global recession.

Even Somalia is being affected by piracy – although some feel that pirates have injected cash into the country, actually they have had an extremely negative effect on efforts to re-establish the country as a functioning state, and as a viable investment opportunity. According to local reports the pirate attacks have negatively affected business operations at Bosaso port, which has long been considered the commercial hub of the country. Without a safe, secure and viable port it will be ever more difficult for the country to rise from the ashes of war, civil unrest and rampant criminality. In many ways ports can be seen as a window to a nation, reflecting the demands of the country and the products of its hinterland, also showing the wealth and power which a country and its populace can exert. Until traffic is able to move freely once more, free from the risk of attack, it will be difficult to see Somalia live up to its potential and it will seemingly be trapped in a downward spiral of terrorism, kidnapping, theft and piracy.

Further implications

Port operators around the continent have not idly stood by but have strongly and vociferously voiced their concerns. Back in 2010 the Executive Secretary of Pan African Association of Ports Cooperation (PAPC) termed piracy as “a cankerworm that grossly militates against the growth of ports’ operations”. It seems the ensuing years have done little to change this view. The most obvious security issues have affected general and bulk cargoes, but the Somali piracy problem has also had a significant effect on cruise traffic. This has been particularly damaging to East Africa, as countries such as Kenya and Tanzania see tourism as a tool to drive further investment and bring revenue into the countries. Having lawless bandits operating off the coast looking to attack cruise ships or grabbing tourists from the beaches is far from ideal for any country.

Then there is the issue of offshore exploration – it appears that the Somali basin is ripe for oil and gas exploration, however this is another major industry which is expressing concerns about the security risks in the region. Investing billions of dollars into a drilling programme, only to see it ruined by Somali pirates is not something which the oil majors can contemplate.

With many companies already facing violence, terrorism and crime on the west coast in the Gulf of Guinea, it will be interesting to see how their appetite for risk compels them to push forward in the Indian Ocean.

Other security issues

While so much focus has been on piracy, it does not paint a complete picture of the maritime security footprint, or of the full extent of the risks to people, vessels and cargoes.

Another major issue is that of general port security, which can involve stowaways and terrorism, but more usually relates to the issue of cargo theft. Such thefts can be done using clever or brute force approaches and ports can be attractive hotbeds of criminal activity, with some cargoes actually arriving into a port having already been stolen.

Those that arrive legitimately may also be under threat. For all the sophisticated fences, lighting, alarms and number plate recognition systems (NPRS), there is still room today for cunning thieves, violent bandits and opportunists.

As an example of where investment can be misguided, one UK port reportedly spent heavily on a state of the art NPRS only to find, when trying to identify a stolen cargo, that if an incoming wagon arrived at the same time as one was outbound then one obscured the other from the camera. So the CCTV footage of the perpetrator was completely useless. However, rather than the trailer of cigarettes which they suspect the criminals had targeted, they had actually got away with over 2,000 disabled toilet seats.

Other recent examples of cargo theft involve the old favourite, ‘the inside job’. When a driver was held at knife point and forced to drive his own wagon for the criminals, there was sympathy all around – until it was made known the driver had pulled the same stunt at a different port a year before.


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