Monday, 29 November 2010

US confirms M.Star blast was terrorist attack

Marad issues advisory to vessels in region

The United States Maritime administration confirmed last week that the attack on the Japanese Mitsui owned tanker in July was a terrorist attack. The MARAD statement that militants were behind the incident has resurfaced questions about security in the Strait of Hormuz. Intelligence agencies are also increasingly concerned about piracy incidents close to the eastern and western shores of the Arabian Sea.

MARAD has issued an advisory for ships transitting the Strait of Hormuz, Southern Arabian Gulf and the Western Gulf of Oman. Advisory 2010-10 on Nov 19 says that that the claim by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB) that the group had attacked the tanker M.Star is ‘valid’, that the AAB remains active and can “conduct further attacks on vessels in areas in the Strait of Hormuz, Southern Arabian Gulf, and Western Gulf of Oman. Furthermore, it recommends “all ships transiting the subject waters exercise increased vigilance and caution, particularly during night transits with increased monitoring of small vessel/boat activity”.

Silence from the West ever since the July incident had bred much speculation about the M.Star attack. Although agencies in the Gulf had clearly indicated that a suicide boat rammed the tanker in an attack that fortunately did not result in casualties or environmental catastrophe, the industry and much of the rest of the world has largely ignored the incident so far. Confusion about the AAB- a relatively little known shadowy Al Qaeda linked group that was hitherto seen to be operating mainly in Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai – added to the speculation. Industry experts questioned the AAB’s ability to mount such an attack in the Arabian Gulf at the time.

The MARAD advisory will undoubtedly change this perception. "This is an important wake-up call," said James Burnell-Nugent, former Commander in Chief, Fleet, of the Royal Navy. We don't want to over-react, but we have 30-odd warships moving around in the Indian Ocean on piracy and one periodically moving through the Strait. It does seem a bit out of balance." UK’s mariner union Nautilus says their members were "profoundly disturbed" at the news. "We don't feel that the threat is being taken seriously either by the industry in general or by governments." Peter Hinchliffe of the International Chamber of Shipping said it was advising all ships to maintain vigilance and caution in the region. Other observers say that premiums will almost certainly rise for traffic in the region.

Critics allege that monitoring of small craft in the Strait, including many fast moving boats used by smugglers, is poor. More robust systems and policing would undoubtedly help in a strait that sees forty percent of the world’s seaborne oil move through it. "We are in for a greater shock unless coordination improves," says Sami alFaraj of the Kuwait Center for Security Studies.

One hopes that the brief advisory will serve as a wake-up call. There has been little reporting or industry concern publicly expressed on the many disturbing elements that have inevitably reared their heads in recent times. Incidents of piracy off the Indian coast, the hijacking of another ship a few hundred miles off Oman recently, confirmation that some Somali pirate groups are believed to be operating from areas held by the extremist Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab in the country and the fact that Al Qaeda has attacked shipping in the past- and threatened more such attacks in the future-are each, on their own, worrisome. Put together, they are alarming.

Some analysts are suggesting that the US display some evidence to back their advisory, pointing out that the results of the official Japanese investigation are not yet known. John Dalby of security company MRM thinks that the M.Star attack was a collision that is being covered up. Others disagree. With the overactive Yemen based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the immediate vicinity, they say, the world cannot afford to ignore the threat to one of the most important chokepoints to seaborne trade.

"Failed attempts can become unintentional trial runs for successful attacks as the perpetrators learn their lessons”, says terrorism expert Jeremy Binnie. "The USS Cole bombers (in Aden, Yemen) made an earlier attempt to bomb the USS Sullivans on 3 Jan 2000, but their boat sank. They learned their lessons and got it right on the next attempt. That's why it’s important to keep an eye out for these kind of things."

Of course, nobody is answering an important question just yet- from which country did the suicide boat come from?


Port State Control or extortion?

Cash strapped Spain makes ‘fine’ move

P&I club Skuld has warned the industry that Spanish PSC inspectors are targeting foreign ships in a bid to raise revenues to help the country’s shaky economy. Skuld’s caution is based on a report by its correspondents Bull Marine Surveyors of Spain. “Due to the current financial situation in Spain, and due to the fact that the Spanish government urgently needs income, they have instructed the Treasury office inspectors to increase their surveys/inspections in all companies in order to get an extra income of EUR 4 billion”, it says. “In our opinion, the Spanish government has also instructed the Head Office of PSC in Madrid to trace, arrest and fine vessels in order to get extra income”.

“According to this new regime, PSC Inspectors will aim to find detainable deficiencies, resulting in large fines and delays”.

It is believed that Treasury inspectors in Spain leaked the government’s plans to local newspapers. Skuld says that ships have been fined between EUR 60.000-90.000 in the past- normally EUR 60.000, which is the minimum amount that has to be guaranteed in order to release the vessel.

Masters are always liable to find their vessels arrested if any serious deficiency is found anywhere in the world. However, there is a world of difference between not allowing a vessel to sail on genuine grounds and targetting foreign ships for revenue. Spanish law, like in some other countries, requires a Master to declare any material or serious deficiencies in the ship to the authorities before arrival. Shipowners fear that the authorities in Spain will misuse this law, finding small deficiencies at PSC inspections and claiming that they were not properly notified by the Master beforehand.

Bull says that “even a small failure or lack of an official stamp in the normal books can be a reason to arrest and fine a vessel. As everyone knows, anyone who wishes to find things amiss on board can find them without any problems, as even new ships are not perfect ships. We recently had a detention and fine of a vessel which was only 6 months old.”

The Club says that Spanish Flag vessels are not being targeted, and neither are passenger vessels or those owned by bigger owners because of obvious implications. “The focus is on non-ECC flags and medium to small tonnage”.

Worse, the Notification of Arrest is delivered on board in Spanish, and the amount of fine must be deposited before any appeal can even be made. “After approximately one month, depending on each port and workload they have, the final fine is imposed, and then this new amount must be placed before the first guarantee is returned,” Skuld says. “No matter if the Owners agree or not with the deficiencies traced, the only way to release the vessel is to place the amount without any arguments. The vessel is released and allowed to sail only after the amount requested by the PSC has been transferred”. Payment normally takes three hours after the money and documents have been gathered by the shipowner’s representatives.

“Presently the situation is so drastic that any silly excuse is used to detain vessels following all laws and regulations, including article 105.3 lay 27/92 which states that the Master must advise of any deficiency on board. The article considers this a minor offence, but the fine imposed is EUR 60.000, so perhaps it’s a minor offense with expensive consequences”, Bull says. The Club says that the matter can take between one to three years to be finally resolved, in case the owners or their P&I Club allege unfair detention.

Shipowners can only hope that other countries in the Eurozone- with more than a few shaky economies- do not follow the Spanish ‘model’ for raising revenues through unfair fines. Although PSC has been misused by officials in many parts of the world for extortion, that is very different from an official policy that threatens to promote this practice. Moreover, from one of the Paris MOU countries too.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Nuclear powered merchant ships on the horizon?

Environmental concerns and long term economic advantages are raising the possibility of nuclear energy being used as the main means of propulsion on cargo ships; the IMO’s increasing thrust on controlling emissions from ships is making technocrats reconsider various business models that will make the idea palatable. Marine and energy consultants BMT Group and Enterprises Shipping and Trading have joined with start-up small reactor firm Hyperion and the Lloyd's Register. They will "investigate the practical maritime applications for small modular reactors," says World Nuclear News, a service supported by the World Nuclear Association and one that covers nuclear power developments.

"We will see nuclear ships on specific trade routes sooner than many people currently anticipate," it quotes Lloyd's Register CEO Richard Sadler as saying. Lloyd's Register has now reportedly redrafted its rules for nuclear ships and submitted the draft to its technical committee. Vince Jenkins of the organisation says, however, "National maritime regulators have little nuclear capability, so land based nuclear regulators will be needed in support. Our nuclear powered ship rules have suggested a framework which may allow nuclear powered shipping to operate”.

Nuclear power for merchant ships was an idea that first surfaced in the late 50’s in the US, where the then 47 million-dollar ‘Savannah’ (see pic) was built with government support. However, she was in service for only ten years, and another nuclear powered ship, the ‘Otto Hahn’ was refitted with diesel engines within nine years. For various reasons, the idea never took off. In recent times, the success of the Russian icebreaker fleet and major Russian initiatives to have floating nuclear power plants around the Arctic has rekindled interest in the possibility of nuclear power for commercial shipping. One obstacle is that High Enriched Uranium, which allows for smaller reactor design, is controlled by the recognised nuclear powers. The alternative, Low Enriched Uranium, makes for bulkier reactors.

Of course, there are other issues, the main one being the lack of acceptability of nuclear power driven merchant ships by Port States. The technical requirements of radiation shielding, crew training and the cost of setting up a nuclear plant on a ship- with additional grounding, collision, fire and such risks- will undoubtedly be other major factors that will have to be considered, even though fuel savings will make the cost worthwhile in the long term. Another advantage: there would also be no need of slow steaming to save on fuel or to control emissions, as is the case today.

The Industry is already reported to be toying with various commercial models using nuclear power and making initial evaluations. It is possible, for example, that two countries agree to use a specific nuclear powered vessel for a port-to-port service. On bulk carriers that are part of a ‘moving pipeline’, large volumes could be moved by fewer and faster ships, thus defraying initial capital costs somewhat.

Another interesting variation of this is the ‘Supertug’ concept, where a nuclear powered tug attaches itself to a conventional ship for the sea voyage, thus saving on fuel costs and making the passage emission free. It then stays in international waters while the ship steams in on her diesel engines into the port, reattaching itself again for the return voyage.

Analysts say that a luxury liner- which has the power demand curve of a small town, would be an ideal ship to use nuclear systems, with conventional diesel generators being used for back up and to handle ‘peak load’. However, this is unlikely to happen in a hurry, given the stiff resistance that will probably be faced from passengers and ports both.

These are early days and the debate on the possibility of nuclear powered merchant ships- a controversial idea, to be sure- is just beginning. One cannot help thinking that this road is likely to be a rough one. Perhaps some countries will promote these ships on their domestic routes first, hopefully after stringent regulation.


Monday, 15 November 2010

Indian Navy rescues cargo ship from pirates 450 nm off Mumbai


                                          Indian marine commandos board: pic, Indian navy.

In yet another alarming incident of a piracy attack close off the Indian coast, and less than two weeks after an assault on the ‘Starlight Venture’ off Mangalore, the Indian Navy has repelled boarders aboard the multipurpose ship ‘BBC Orinoco’ and rescued the crew. The incident is even more shocking because it occurred just 450 nautical miles off Mumbai, when the vessel was on a passage from Aqaba to Singapore.

About 6 am on Nov 11, the Orinoco- with a reported Filipino, Russian, Sri Lankan and Ukrainian crew of 14- informed the Indian Navy through UKMTO Dubai that pirates were attacking them. The Navy dispatched missile corvette INS Veer to intercept the distressed vessel. Another ship with Marine Commandos aboard, the INS Delhi was also pulled off exercises and diverted to the Orinoco; a long-range IL-38 aircraft was additionally deployed for aerial surveillance.

Early the next day, the commandos rappelled aboard the Orinoco from a Sea King helicopter that covered their descent. Although full details are unavailable at the time of writing this report, it is believed that the pirates were scared off the vessel by the naval action. The crew were rescued; a detailed search of the vessel found no pirates aboard, although tools such as crowbars- and knives -were found aboard.

The 2008 built 17335DWT Orinoco is registered in Antigua and Barbuda and is believed to be chartered by Beluga shipping and sub-chartered to Germany’s BBC. Manager Reedereigruppe Freese has confirmed that the crew are safe. “MV BBC Orinoco has successfully been prevented from being hijacked and is now safe,” the company said. “Thanks to the crew, the Indian Navy, as well as to UKMTO,” the statement concluded.

Beluga connected ships have been in the eye of the pirate storm before. On the 24th of last month, the Beluga Fortune suffered an almost identical incident off Somalia, with the crew locking itself in a ‘citadel’ before being rescued by the Royal Navy the following day. The ‘BBC Trinidad’, another Beluga vessel, was not so lucky two years ago, being taken in the Gulf of Aden towards the end of August before being quickly released by the middle of September.

Critics allege that many owners still push Master’s to sail by the shortest possible route between the Bab-el-Mandab straits eastwards with no protection. With piracy in the Arabian Sea off the Indian subcontinent now a well-established fact and with no armed guards aboard, these crews and owners are simply asking for trouble.

From an Indian standpoint, the by now many piracy attacks off the Indian coast and an incident where Somali pirates were caught in Lakshadweep in August after they had swum ashore, all point to dangerous holes in our maritime security. Observers say that these incidents have the security establishment rattled. Whether that is true or not, the fact is that India continues to ignore piracy and associated terror threats at its own peril. Although it can afford – cynically speaking - to ignore seafarers, it just cannot afford to be sanguine about threats from the sea any longer. As one mariner says, “Mumbai has already paid the price once.”


Friday, 12 November 2010

Foreign ships on Indian coast will have to use Indian crews, proposes DGS

A draft circular taken out by the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) says that foreign-registered ships licenced to operate on the Indian coast will have to ensure that a percentage of their crew is Indian. They will also have to reserve training berths for Indians. The move is in line with rules prevalent in some other countries governing the employment of local seafarers in their coastal trades, and is seen as another step by the DGS towards streamlining regulations pertaining to foreign flagships plying domestically.

“Procedural regime in many countries have imposed crewing requirements on ships doing business in their coastal waters”, notes the DGS. INSA and other Indian maritime bodies had represented to the regulator that Indian rules should be streamlined. This new regulation, if formalised, will obviously boost Indian seafarer employment opportunities.

Foreign ships are licenced to operate along the Indian coast after DGS licencing only when Indian vessels are not available. These new draft rules propose a scaled system that will be conditional to granting that licence to a foreign ship. For example, a foreign ship operating with a licence greater than 180 days will require a minimum of half the crew (as per Safe Manning norms) to be Indian, and one with a licence period exceeding 90 days will have to employ Indians totalling to at least a third of their crew complement. These must be Indian nationals holding certificates issued by India, and the rules will be applied to both officers and ratings.

“Many countries have imposed crewing requirements on ships doing business in their coastal waters. It is only appropriate that similar crewing requirements are also imposed on ships engaged in shipping and related activities in Indian Coastal Waters,” the DGS says.

The circular notes, for compliance with the STCW conventions, that the crew must be certified by the DPA of the company as to their suitability and familiarisation with the ship. Additonally, the ship owner must indemnify the DGS and the Central Government from liability arising out the grant of the dispensation.

The DGS has proposed a tiered system for training requirements as well; this is to be indexed to the Tonnage Tax regime. Regardless, it says that the rules on training and crewing will apply even to those ships not enjoying Tonnage Tax benefits. The regulator says that a ship owner can enter into a mutual agreement with an Indian ship owning company to effectively outsource the training requirement. Whichever way it is done, this initiative in particular is a very welcome step, as thousands of officer and ratings trainees graduate annually in India and often struggle to get training berths thereafter.

The draft circular has been uploaded by the DGS on its website for comment.


‘Magna Carta’ for Filipino seafarers

Recent statistics confirming a significant increase in overseas remittances from Filipino mariners have rejuvenated calls in that country for greater concern about their welfare. The Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives is believed to be pushing through a bill dubbed ‘The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers’ through the country’s legislative process.

Senator Loren Legarda, who filed the bill in the Philippines’ Senate, said, "Seafarers make up a significant 25.83 percent of the country's migrant work force yet most of the policies and programs catering to the needs of migrant workers are designed for the conditions and situation of land-based workers. We need to establish the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which would address the specific needs of our seafarers. We welcome any move that would support such efforts, and I encourage my fellow legislators in the two Houses of Congress to push for the immediate passage of the measures filed for the benefit of our sea-based workers”.

Filipino sea-based workers remitted a total of US$ 4,339,407,000 for the first three months of 2010. On a Year-on-Year basis, there is an 11.31 percent increase in remittances from sea-based overseas Filipino workers between January to August this year; these remittances are growing twice as fast as those from land-based workers.

Under the bill, seafarers will be guaranteed their right to humane working conditions and just compensation. Manning and crewing agencies will be required to provide, by law, adequate information about on-board conditions as well as local and international laws that apply to the Filipino seafarer. Senator Legarda says that “their (sea-based workers’) contribution to the country is worthy of recognition and it is a must that the State protect and uphold the rights of the Filipino seafarers and address their specific needs”. The bill provides for access to affordable and quality education to ensure that Filipinos maintain an edge over others; it also seeks to ensure ‘retraining or reintegration’ of the seafarer after his sea-service. The bill also establishes added services for the families of maritime workers.

"The Filipino seafarers are one of our country's important human resources. They should be given attention and protection for their continued growth and development which will translate to the improvement of our country's socio economic conditions," Legarda said. The bill also addresses issues of illegal recruitment and bars government employees of maritime organisations or their relatives from the mariner recruitment business. It seeks to lay down conditions of employment of seafarers in detail, including social welfare and benefits, besides detailing mechanisms for settlement of disputes.

Senator Angara, who authored the ‘Magna Carta’, feels that a comprehensive and definitive legislation to address mariner issues is long overdue. “To maximise the potential of this industry, we must prioritise the development and training of our seafarers," said Angara. "We must push for the development and implementation of a strong, consistent legislative agenda for Filipino seafarers. We need to create a new system to recognise and advance their issues and concerns, through reforms in our maritime industry."

The Filipino political system is clearly light years ahead of its Indian counterpart when it comes to seafarer issues. Although critics in that country say that the ‘Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers’ has been in the pipeline for far too long, the fact is that the initiative now being pushed recognises the seafaring industry as different, critical and one that requires to be uniquely addressed. If their legislative process passes this bill, it will be a victory for thousands of Filipino seafarers and will boost the profile, in that country, of a career at sea.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Third Officer dies of ‘malnutrition and distress’ on hijacked ship.

Three others in similar situation-  6 Indians amongst crew

Azal shipping, the Dubai based owners of the Ro-Ro vessel Iceberg1, have now confirmed that a Yemeni Third Officer aboard their ship that was hijacked seven months ago has died. Ecoterra, a piracy monitoring group, had said last week that the sailor had died of ‘malnutrition and distress’. The other 23 crew, including six Indians, are in dire stratis, with three suffering similar conditions as the Yemeni before his death. One had to be tied down as he threatened to kill himself, according to reports. Meanwhile, the ship has run low on food and water and is completely out of medicine and generator fuel. The crew members are from India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.

This horrendous news comes on the back of earlier reports last month that had the pirates threatening to kill the Iceberg1 crew and sell their body parts; reports later indicated that these may have been just elaborate threats to get the owners to negotiate. The pressures that the crew are under must be tremendous, and are obviously not helped by the owners refusing, for the last two months, to negotiate seriously for ransom, according to news reports. Azal Shipping has held negotiations with the hijackers in September, but is unwilling to pay the ransom demanded from the hijackers. In fact, it seems that the owners have refused to pay any ransom, and even ignored demands for food, water, fuel and medicines for the crew. The two parties are ‘talking but not actually talking’, according to a spokesperson from Ecoterra, who says that a doctor needs to be urgently sent on board. Concerns are also being raised as to what the crew will do with the body of their dead comrade, as the freezer on board is obviously not working.

Meanwhile, the pirates have reportedly brought two skiffs on board and perhaps intend to take the vessel out at sea, using the crew as human shields in further attacks. This will not be the first time this has happened on the vessel: the Iceberg1 was renamed the “Sea Express’ in May and used as a mother ship, according to observers on the US destroyer McFaul. This was two months after the vessel, carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks was hijacked from the Gulf of Aden and taken to Kulub in Somalia.

The ordeal of the crew of the Iceberg1 began on March 29 this year, when the Panama flagged vessel was taken just ten miles off the port of Aden. The international community could only watch as she was repainted with the name the ‘Sea Express’ and seen on May 19, presumably out on a piracy mission. The US McFaul could only shadow the Iceberg1 for a day and a half without taking any action, since about fifty armed pirates aboard made a rescue mission highly risky. Azal shipping refused to pay ransom and the ship is apparently not insured; conflicting reports later suggested that British cargo interests were incharge of negotiations, though Azal denied this.

In any case, nobody seems to have done much to get the crew released, or supplied with even minimal food, water, medicines or fuel. The situation aboard is clearly critical. It is believed that the Indians in the crew have contacted their government at home, pleading for some action to be taken. There seems to be deafening silence, from both the government and the Indian mainstream media, to the plight of our sailors cruelly held in Somalia for most of this year. To add to this usual dismal scenario, it appears that the shipowner is not even responding to requests for information now.


Posco’s Jatadhari port in Orissa under fire.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had accused the Centre of conspiring to stall his state’s progress after Vedanta and Posco operations were put under the magnifier not so long ago. Now comes the news that the South Korean steel giant is facing objections, notably from the navy and environmentalists, to the construction of its planned captive port at Jatadhar.

The Indian navy, citing security reasons, has opposed the Jatadhari port project last month. Almost simultaneously, The National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) charged Posco with using fraudulent means to get environmental clearances for its $12 billion project in Orissa. They said that the company had ‘unbundled’ the steel plant, power and port projects into smaller units even though they are located within one complex and are part of the same project. Leo F. Saldanha, coordinator, Environment Support Group, who did a study for NFFPFW, said that Posco’s claim that the Jatadhari port was minor is ‘an alarming aspect’, given that the port is designed for Cape size vessels of up to 170,000 DWT. 'The devastation the ships would cause (to the ecology) is unimaginable’, he said. The group claims that the authorities have paid no heed to the social or economic consequences of the port and that the clearances were rushed through without proper due diligence.

To add to Posco’s woes, scientists now say that the port will be very close to the nesting beaches of the endangered olive ridley sea turtles and the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary. These turtles are protected species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act; not only that, the mouth of the Jatadhar River has been designated a protected area under the Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act.

A study showed that increased illumination and escalating marine traffic would have a detrimental impact on the sanctuary, including on dolphins, turtles and other marine life. “Orissa has the largest nesting population of olive ridleys outside Central America. Also, the olive ridley turtle population in the Orissa coast is unique. Genetic studies show that olive ridley populations in the Pacific and Atlantic originated from India's east coast. Therefore, from the conservation perspective, protecting the habitat along the Orissa coastline takes on greater importance,” said ecologist Kartik Shanker, faculty at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore to the Economic Times. He is part of a group of scientists that intend to report their findings to the environmental ministry in Delhi.

The group criticises the project report initially prepared for Posco, saying that it is not a suitable document as it ‘made no mention’ of the impact the port would have on the marine environment of the area.

The Jatadhari port is just one of many similar projects planned on the sensitive Orissa coast. Security and environmental issues will probably be raised for some of the others as well. Given the stricter approach of Jairam Ramesh’s Environment Ministry in recent times, Patnaik may find that mining projects in Orissa will slow down even more.


Monday, 1 November 2010

VLCC attacked by pirates just 340 miles off Mangalore.

In yet another incident shockingly close to the Indian coast, a VLCC was attacked by two boats and its superstructure riddled with bullets just 340 nautical miles from Mangalore.

The 317,970 dwt ‘Starlight Venture’ was on a passage from Saudi Arabia to Japan when the incident occurred, according to reports from Singapore based Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia(ReCAAP). Around 0030 hours on October 28, the U Ming managed crude tanker was approached by two boats in approximate position 13.16N. 068.59E. Closing in fast from the tanker’s starboard quarter, an unknown number of pirates fired on the vessel, shooting out the ship’s mast lights and leaving about 50 bullet holes in the accommodation, the report says. The ship increased her speed to 16 knots and took evasive action, eventually frustrating the pirates. No injuries to the crew are reported. The 2004 built Starlight Venture is registered in Hong Kong.

Other incidents close to the Indian coast, including the discovery of eight Somali pirates at Lakshadweep earlier in the year and the hijack of the Frisia, have been reported here earlier. Equally alarmingly, another container vessel, the 6673 TEU Maersk Karachi was attempted to be boarded by pirates just a day before the Starlight Venture incident. She was in position 10.51N. 063.28E, well into the Arabian Sea (see map) at the time; fortunately, she evaded the pirate skiffs, probably due to her speed.

The attack on the Starlight Venture will no doubt send shockwaves through the security establishment in India and abroad. VLCCs are infrequently attacked, although the ‘Samho Dream’ was taken in the general vicinity of the Maersk Karachi in April this year; she and her 24 crew still remain hostage. The most high profile VLCC hijack so far was probably the ‘Sirius Star’ in November 2008. The fact that another attack has taken place much closer to the Indian coastline will be additional cause for concern.

The capability of the pirates to operate over a thousand miles off the Somali coastline is no longer in doubt. As it beefs up its coastal security apparatus, India will also have to do much more off her coastline, including identifying and possibly targeting mother ships that straddle critical trade routes from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf going eastwards. It is not enough to protect coastlines or even coastal waters; most of the southern Arabian Sea is now criminal territory. As the Mumbai attacks proved, this threat is not just about piracy.