Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Convoy Duty II

20 June 2011

Good Afternoon, Shipmates!
The attached photos continue the trend this week of unusual imagery--three of them are taken of the presentation on one of our radar displays on the bridge, and the fourth through a night-vision scope on the starboard bridge wing.  I wanted you to see these images because they illustrate very well the changes in anti-piracy tactics we have effected in recent months--and how these changes have affected the battle here in the Gulf of Aden.

Here is an excerpt from my posting of 8 March, "Convoy Duty"...

The plain, simple fact is that there is no way, short of a massive, organized convoy system along the lines and scale of that which protected allied shipping in the Atlantic in WWII that the limited number of warships on anti-piracy patrol out here can possibly maintain watch over the massive number of merchant ships that transit these waters headed either northwest into the Red Sea en route the Suez Canal, east toward India, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf States, or south along the coast of Africa
Westbound Convoy (Radar PPI Image)
 Well, I am happy to report that such is now the case.  Someone at Fifth Fleet in Bahrain apparently dug up a copy of Admiralty Instructions from 1943 and as of two months ago initiated a good, old-fashioned convoy escort system for the protection of merchant ships against enemy "raiders"--German pocket-battleships and U-Boats in WWII parlance but Somali pirates these days--and it continues today.  The radar images you see here are of two of these massive convoys--one eastbound to the Gulf and Indian Ocean ports and the other westbound to the Red Sea and Suez Canal, and the night vision image is of a small part of one of them seen from our bridge as we passed close-aboard the other night.
One major departure from anti-U-Boat convoy organization is the arrangement of the escorts.  When defending slow merchants against enemy submarines in WWII, Allied escort units (usually corvettes, sloops and destroyer escorts--the classic destroyer was built for high speed operations and was notably inefficient at the low transit speeds of the convoys then--in addition, there were NEVER enough "tin cans" to go around) would move on the outskirts of the convoy, usually forming  lines in front and to both sides of the merchant ship columns.In THIS case the escorts take positions ahead of and in the middle of the formation, the better to deploy against approaching pirate vessels.  You can clearly see the "leader" units at the head of their respective convoy groups in the photos.

Another oddity is that the convoy escort forces are not "multinational" in nature.  Somewhere the decision was made for convoy escorts to be homogenous--all from one country or another.  This rule (if it is one) does not apply to the merchant ships being escorted, only the escorts themselves, and each convoy series is designated by the nationality of it's escort.  So, the "eastbounder" shown in the attached photos was a Chinese PLAN (Peoples Liberation Army-Navy) convoy, whilst the "westbounder" was operated by the Russian Federation.

This is a little weird to me, but the important thing is that the system works.  A combination of "enhanced" defenses (razor wire barriers, water cannon and armed security "contractors", mostly) aboard the merchant ships themselves and the tight convoy formations have made it extremely difficult for pirate skiffs and motherships to make their approaches, and have prevented many attempted boardings.  One statistic released by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) indicated that successful pirate attacks in this region dropped by over 75 percent in the past two months.
Eastbound Convoy (Night-Vision)
Are ships still boarded?  Yes, primarily amongst those vessels who are unwilling to join the convoys because of their schedules or company policies, and amongst those who have not implemented the above-listed measures.  There are attempted boardings here in the Gulf of Aden every few hours on average, and successful ones once or two times in the same period.  There are no easy solutions to this problem, and there never have been, but cooperation and intelligent planning have reduced the number of ships captured by the Somali and Yemeni pirates from a torrent to a trickle.

I'm going to finish this posting with some information from the impressive blog "Ship Talk", which provides a great deal of coverage on this continuing battle.  The list below provides the names and particulars of the merchant ships and crews currently held for ransom by Somali and Yemeni pirates in harbors on the Gulf of Aden; please read the entire list through, and think of the mariners and their families who suffer the real horrors of modern-day piracy.

Tom Epps
Able Seaman
USNS Arctic
Gulf of Aden

* SOCOTRA 1: Seized on December 25, 2009 in the Gulf of Aden. Yemeni-owned ship had six Yemeni crew.

* ICEBERG 1: Seized on March 29, 2010. Roll-on roll-off vessel captured 10 miles from Aden. Crew of 24.

* Thai fishing vessel — PRANTALAY 12 — hijacked on April 17-18. Unknown crew.

* OLIB G: Seized on Sept. 8. Maltese-flagged merchant vessel with 18 crew — 15 Georgians, three Turks.

* CHOIZIL: Seized on Oct. 26. South-African-owned yacht was hijacked after leaving Dar es Salaam. European Union anti-piracy task force rescued one South African but two other crew members were taken ashore and held as hostages.

* POLAR: Seized on Oct 30. Liberian-owned Panama-flagged 72,825-tonne tanker seized 580 miles east of Socotra. Crew of 24 — one Romanian, three Greeks, four Montenegrins, 16 Filipinos.

* ALBEDO: Seized on Nov. 26. Malaysian-owned cargo vessel was taken 900 miles off Somalia as it headed for Mombasa from UAE. Crew of 23 from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran.

* PANAMA: Seized on Dec. 10. Liberian-flagged container ship en route from Tanzania to Beira. Crew of 23 from Myanmar.

* ORNA: Seized on Dec. 20. The Panama-flagged bulk cargo vessel, 27,915 dwt, owned by the United Arab Emirates, was seized 400 miles northeast of the Seychelles.

* SHIUH FU NO 1: Seized Dec. 25. Somali pirates appeared to have seized the Taiwanese-owned fishing vessel near the northeast tip of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The vessel had a crew of 26 Taiwanese, Chinese and Vietnamese nationals.

* BLIDA: Seized on Jan. 1, 2011. The 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier was seized about 150 miles southeast of Salalah, Oman. The ship, with 27 crew from Algeria, Ukraine and the Philippines, was heading to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from Salalah with a cargo of clinker.

* HOANG SON SUN: Seized on Jan. 19. The 22,835-tonne bulk carrier, which is Mongolian flagged and Vietnamese-owned and had a crew of 24 Vietnamese nationals, was seized about 520 nautical miles southeast of the port of Muscat.

* SAVINA CAYLYN: Seized on Feb. 8. The 104,255-dwt tanker, Italian-flagged and owned, was on passage to Malaysia from Sudan when it was attacked 670 miles east of Socotra Island. It had five Italians and 17 Indians on board.

* SININ: Seized on Feb. 12. The Maltese owned and registered bulk carrier was seized with a crew of 13 Iranian and 10 Indian nationals in the North Arabian Sea. The 53,000 dwt vessel was on route to Singapore from Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

* ALFARDOUS: Seized on Feb. 13. The Yemeni fishing vessel was believed to have been pirated close to Socotra Island in the Gulf of Aden and has a crew of eight.

* DOVER: Seized on Feb. 28. It was taken about 260 nautical miles north east of Salalah in Oman. The Panamanian flagged, Greek owned vessel was on its way to Saleef (Yemen) from Port Quasim (Pakistan) when it was attacked. The crew consists of three Romanians, one Russian and 19 Filipinos.

* SUSAN K: Seized on April 8. The German-owned, Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel was travelling to Port Sudan from Mumbai in India when it was pirated 200 nautical miles northeast of Salalah, Oman. The 4,450 dwt vessel carried a crew of 10.

* ROSALIA D’AMATO: Seized on April 21. The Italian-owned bulk carrier was captured 350 miles (560 km) off the coast of Oman. The 74,500 tonne bulk carrier was on its way to Bandar Imam Khomeini in Iran from Brazil with a cargo of soya. The 21 crew consisted of six Italians and 15 Filipinos.

* GEMINI: Seized April 30. The Singapore-flagged chemical tanker was seized off the Tanzanian coast, 115 miles east of Zanzibar. The 29,871 dwt vessel carried 28,000 metric tonnes of crude palm oil from Kuala Tanjung in Indonesia to Mombasa in Kenya. The 25 crew consist of four from South Korea, 13 from Indonesia, three from Myanmar and five from China.

Sources: Reuters/Ecoterra International/International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre/Lloyds List/Inquirer.net/www.eunavfor.eu/

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