The Case of the MV Marzooqah: The news of Piracy’s death has been premature

Mitigating against a threat is not stopping the threat.

It is merely stopping the effects of that threat.

The MV Marzooqah has become famous overnight as the ship that proved the experts wrong and confounded the combined might of the naval armada in the Gulf. For one year the maritime authorities have been highlighting the fact that security and transit zones and increased technological surveillance had rendered uncertainty around piracy and maritime crime dead in the water.

The fact that this vessel over the weekend of January 18 2014 remains mired in controversy surrounding whether it was hijacked or boarded by Eritrean border guards  highlights the instability and uncertainty in the area. None of this removes the fact that constant vigilance an awareness of the need for a change in the approach to how piracy and maritime crime must be dealt with.

The hijacking or boarding  of the MV Marzooqah has given credence  that tenacity and need are greater than the technology and the might of all the combined resources of the 20 plus nations co-operating to stop the effects of  piracy on Western ship owners and the western economies they supply. Even with all the combined might of the technology it has been impossible to determine the exact  fate of the vessel as Eritrean involvement has deepened the mystery.  It is this single point which must be emphasized. The EU and combined maritime task forces and individual security details aboard merchant vessels all have one purpose. That purpose is to stop the effects of Somali and other piracy on the West. Its aim has never been to stop the fact of piracy’s existence or its attractiveness as a means of earning vital income to whole communities. As long as ransoms are paid and there are no other economically viable options for deprived coastal communities, piracy or maritime crime will continue.

The RO RO (Roll on Roll off) cargo and car carrier was hijacked or boarded overnight on the 18th January 2014 in the area near the Red Sea.  The ship is crewed by a number of nationalities including Indians and Egyptians. Multiple crew nationalities are quite usual in the maritime industry given the global nature of the activity. The location of the hijacking or boarding of the MV Marzooqah is alarming given the sensitivities of the area around the Red Sea water way for energy security and its importance as a key trading route between East and West.

Given that a ship was boarded in an alarming and unplanned  manner  in this area and a mystery surrounded the exact nature of this activity in a highly surveilled and guarded area  demands that attention is once again focused on this issue.

This confusion around the nature and naming of maritime criminal activity has been one of the key contributors to the blurring of the fact that Somali  and other maritime attacks have not stopped.January has always been a busy month for Somali pirate gangs. The  close relationship between Eritrea and Somali criminality has often slipped under the radar of analysts as all attention has been  based upon  the pirate action groups at sea rather than onshore.There will be more successful hijacks and unauthorised boarding in the future because the attacks on ships have never stopped. Despite authorities claiming that there had been no successful hijacking for one year scant mention has been made of the fact that there have been repeated attempts during the year and an increase in activity during November and December. Officially recorded statistics of 36 attacks in 2012 and 7 in 2013 are precisely that what was officially reported.

Like crime on land most are never reported. Within the industry the numbers of attempted and suspected attacks are known to be significantly higher. Recording attacks results in increases of the operating costs of ships and insurance premiums. Recorded attacks are also usually attacks which involve an attempted boarding or shots being fired. They do not take into account attacks where vessels are surrounded, chased or followed. There has been a substantial number of such reports as detailed by on board security teams. There is no category for suspected attacks and they are therefore not represented or considered in attacks reported to official channels and consequently not counted in statistics.

Attempted and suspected attacks are all vital indicators to security operatives that the intent and ability and motivation still remains and therefore the threat still remains.

Somali piracy like all piracy will be on the wane when attacks have stopped not when successful hijacks stop. Once attacks continue the will and the financing and the motivation remain evident. Beyond this it becomes a game of chance.   For one year analysts and this author have been quietly pointing out that in criminal activity of this nature guns cannot defeat the idea. The idea will always be greater because that is the nature of human nature. It is the idea which stops the action or causes it to occur. A revolution in our thinking about piracy is imminent and required. If we change the way we think about piracy and therefore the way we deal with it then the idea which is always more powerful than the gun may prevail. It is the idea which makes a man choose a gun as his tool of economic advantage and the idea that a gun is the ultimate financial market accumulation method. The idea that piracy remains lucrative is sufficient to encourage any young man on the make to take the risk and speculate using his best skill set.

Onshore crime syndicates, criminal gangs, thieves- any illegal action is fed by the possibility that the risk is worth taking as the other available options are non-existent. This is especially so in an environment that remains unstable, war torn and fractured nationally as a result of local politics, local warlords and local and clan allegiances. Piracy thrives as a result of these tight knit relationships. It thrives with organisation and coordination. It is not an activity that needs chaos, confusion and a lack of order since it is so highly community orientated and organisationally complex and yet our very responses to piracy are precisely that. It is no wonder then that in the early hours of the weekend of January 18 2014 another ship’s crew fell victim to our own inability in the west to think instead of shoot our way out of a problem which globalisation has thrust upon us. The uncertainty and misinformation engendered by this event should force the west to reconsider how we deal with incidents of this nature.

Candyce Kelshall

About Candyce Kelshall

Doctoral candidate and BUCSIS Research Fellow. Independent advisor to British Transport police and Metropolitan Police. Candyce is the author of two books on Civil /military relations. "Armed Forces and Government" and "Mutiny and Revolution: Military pressure Groups"
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