|Topic:||A lifeline on the high seas – Satellite solutions serve as a critical defence|
in response to rising maritime piracy threats
|Title:||Director, Europe, Middle East & Africa|
|Organisation:||Iridium Communications Inc.|
Wouter Deknopper is the Director of EMEA Market in Iridium. Mr Deknopper brings more than 15 years of experience in the Satellite Industry to his position as Iridium’s Director of Europe, Middle East & Africa. Based in Belgium, he began his career in the Satellite Communications Market with SAIT Communications and then joined Marlink, part of Telenor, before coming to Iridium in 2005. Mr Deknopper has extensive knowledge and experience in business development, consulting, project and partner management in machine to machine applications, security, and maritime. At Iridium, he is responsible for bringing new services and products to market in alignment with Iridium’s initiatives while attuned to the needs of the end-users in these industries.
Maritime piracy around the African coast has become a serious threat to life and property. Pirates hold more than 200 hostages today and ransoms of more than US$10 million have been reportedly paid. To resolve this issue, ships are built with a safe room, or ‘citadels’, where independent and secure communications can be maintained during attacks. The citadel must have separate power and separate satellite antenna to ensure that GPS, email and Voice services are available. Panic buttons can be mounted in various locations, and antenna equipment needs to be hidden on the ship structure. Such facilities enable the attacked crew to alert the patrolling anti-piracy warships that can then come to the rescue.
Maritime piracy is still a very real concern for seafarers large and small, and incidents have been on the rise for the past decade. According to figures from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report, which was released on 23 April 2012, 102 incidents of piracy and armed robbery have been reported for the first quarter of 2012. The bureau also noted that numbers are dangerously increasing in West African waters. So far this year, 11 vessels were reported hijacked worldwide, 45 vessels were boarded, with 32 attempted attacks and 14 vessels fired upon. Somali and Nigerian pirates instigated most of the attacks.
As of April this year, pirates hold a total of 212 hostages, who are being used as human shields to forestall rescue attempts by military forces. Compounding this, pirate gangs have recently started using some of the captured ships, with their hostage crews, as mother ships for their smaller attack boats, enabling them to operate hundreds of miles offshore for long periods of time. Hostages are being subjected to increasing levels of violence by their captors, including starvation, beatings, torture and even execution. Ransom demands have escalated, and payments of more than US$10 million have been reported. These multi-million dollar ransom payments provide a tidy, low-risk, tax-free income for pirate gang lords who operate highly sophisticated international crime cartels, extending their power, influence and intelligence networks around the globe.
According to the IMB, there were 439 worldwide piracy attacks in 2011, more than half of which were attributed to Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and off the coast of Oman. Somali pirates are the greatest piracy threat. They have increasingly pushed farther off the Somali coast. They have moved deeper into the Indian Ocean, off Seychelles and the Maldives, and further south along the East African coast, off Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Somali piracy emerged as a potent force shortly after the regime of long-time Somali dictator Major General Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed in 1991. With the absence of any central governing authority, commercial fishing fleets began to exploit the country’s coastline.
While collaborative efforts, such as scores of warships from international navies on anti-piracy patrols, have helped reduce the number of successful hijackings in the region, the danger zone remains far too large for them to prevent all but a handful of attacks. Further, a military response after the vessel has been captured can put the hostages in greater danger. As a result of these challenges, the maritime industry is growing increasingly frustrated, and many shipmasters are taking matters into their own hands.
We see renewed calls for armed soldiers or mercenaries to ride ships when transiting the danger area. However, this is a more contentious issue than you might expect given many flag states forbid the carriage of weapons on ships, and many port states distribute stiff fines on ships entering their territorial waters with firearms on board. Perhaps more feasible are the installation of safe rooms, or ‘citadels’, equipped with secure, emergency connectivity solutions. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recommends these tactics in its Best Management Practices report published for shipping companies and ship masters sailing in the danger zone. It contains guidance on preparing for piracy threats, taking action to deter attack, using countermeasures to keep the pirates from getting aboard the ship and actions to be taken once the ship is captured.
These citadels sit below decks, away from outside bulkheads and windows, where the crew can take refuge if the pirates seize control of the ship. The idea is that the crew can disable the ship’s propulsion and navigation systems, then barricade themselves into the citadel where they can wait safely for rescue by naval forces. The citadel needs to be sufficiently hardened so that pirates cannot break in. This requires an independent source of ventilation and electrical power. It also calls for a reliable, secure communication link the crew can use from inside the citadel to communicate with rescuing forces. This is more difficult than you might think, since the pirates can easily disconnect or destroy the ship’s primary satellite and radio antennas. There needs to be a secure stand-alone communication system installed in the citadel, connected to an antenna and with cabling that pirates cannot disable.
In April 2011, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) published advice for ship citadel communications systems. The NATO guidelines call for the citadel to be equipped with self-contained, independent, two-way external communications, specifically recommending a satellite voice/email solution that offers real-time global coverage. Ideally, on-board communications systems should have a power supply for a minimum of three days, based on a continuous open line, low-latency short burst data service for GPS tracking. It should have small, lightweight antenna units that can easily be concealed. This will help ensure that crews can stay connected to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office in Dubai, which is the primary point of contact between merchant shipping and naval forces patrolling the danger zone off the Somali coast. UKMTO has direct communication to all naval assets in the area and plays a key role in coordinating the naval response when pirates board and attack ships.
While we don’t divulge full details on how the satellite antenna and cabling are protected from the pirates, we see an increase of demand for anti-piracy communication packages which meet the IMO Best Management Practices and NATO advisory guides. For instance, Beam Communications, a leading provider of satellite communication solutions specialising in voice, data and tracking solutions, has developed an anti-piracy ‘bundle’ to ensure communication is not lost when all power or communication equipment on board a vessel has been cut off or destroyed by pirates. The bundle consists of a group of specially designed products and accessories, including a covert antenna enclosure, and emergency alert and tracking functions, to help keep sailors out of harm’s way. This includes Voice calling that supports standard corded/cordless phones with runs of up to 600m / 2000ft with multiple handsets if required; Tracking with built-in GPS engine enables tracking and monitoring, using a compact covert GPS antenna, separately from the vessel’s GPS standard antenna; and Emergency alert panic buttons, on the unit or installed in various locations, to trigger an emergency alert.
Another satellite communications solution provider, Applied Satellite Engineering (ASE), has increased its security offering to maritime customers through its safe-room communications solution equipped with reliable voice communications and GPS position reporting. This solution uses satellite voice communication and GPS reporting, and solves antenna run problems by combining the transceiver and antenna into one small discreet enclosure. This enclosure can be mounted hidden from sight in the ship’s funnel or other locations, as antenna distance is not an issue. A corded phone, mounted in a lockable wall mounted cabinet, can be easily installed in the citadel with only one cable running to the outdoor unit. The battery backup is robust and purpose-built for maritime applications. An additional phone can be installed on the bridge from the same system to ensure a complete emergency communication system.
To discover more about Industry BMP (Best Management Practices) that have been developed to assist ships travelling to the coast of Somalia and other areas, you can visit: http://www.marisec.org. Timely piracy updates and statistics can be accessed via the IMB Piracy Reporting Center at: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre.