(eTN) – The cruiseliner, Spirit of Adventure, had some unexpected adventure of its own last week, when being approached on the open ocean by pirates, while enroute to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa in Kenya. The ocean terrorists, however, failed to get near enough to the cruiseliner to pose a serious threat, as the crew successfully outmaneuvered them and made a swift getaway into safer waters, using evasive maneuvering.
Some of the 1,000 passengers on arrival in Mombasa, however, did tell the local media that they were told to duck down – good advice considering that the pirates often shower ships from the distance with machine gun fire and even use rocket-propelled grenades in order to make ships stop, a clear sign that they are willing to risk casualties in their criminal pursuits.
The incident was kept low key in the local media, and not yet made its way widely into major international media either, as the cruise company was reportedly trying to keep such unwelcome news under wraps. It would admittedly be a nightmare scenario often referred to, by the way in articles here, had the pirates managed to get hold of the cruiseliner, a priceless bounty worth tens of millions of US dollars if not more – and should it ever happen.
The Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar and also the island countries have in the recent past lost substantial numbers of port calls from the major cruise companies, many of which have, in fact, cancelled long-standing arrangements and relocated their ships to safer waters in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, leaving only a few to still include, for instance, Mombasa in their itineraries. In fact, pirates have now expanded their area of operation to as far South as Madagascar, and only last week 6 of them were captured who landed in Tanzania, either out of sheer audacity or for being stupid enough to think they can land, buy food and water, and then return to the ocean to continue their hunt for ships and yachts. Thankfully residents of a fishing village spotted them and called in police and other security organizations, which then arrested the pirates and charged them in court for illegal entry and possession of assorted arms and ammunition. A related article refers separately to this development.
The resulting loss of revenue for ports, suppliers, and tourism businesses, is estimated to be massive – there is talk of tens of millions of US dollars across the region – adding pressure on the respective governments to do substantially more to secure the sea lanes and have cargo and passenger ships once more enjoy safe passage. Notable exception here is the Seychelles, which has over the past year or two substantially boosted their surveillance and patrol abilities, and has put their new coast guard vessels and aircraft to immediate good use. On several occasions they have already robustly responded to distress calls and freed crews and ships captured by the ocean terrorists, arrested the pirates, tried them in court, and jailed them for twenty and more years.
However, other regular members of the naval coalition, in spite of having arguably enough surface ships and aerial support in the area now, are considered weak in their responses and lack robust rules of engagement, which allow them to react harshly when spotting small boats on the open ocean, looking like pirate skiffs, acting like pirate skiffs, and for all practical purpose being pirate skiffs, and the pirates subsequently often get away to continue their bloody handiwork. Navies of several countries seemingly lack the ability of their commanders on site to take appropriate decisions, which for instance led to the capture of the Chandlers while a British navy ship stood nearby awaiting orders from above, instead of leaving it to the crews to deal with the ocean terrorists “Seychelles style.” Hence, while the Seychelles are to be congratulated for their determined no nonsense approach in safeguarding her territorial waters, other East African countries need to follow suit now and equally boost their naval capacity and engage pirates found loitering off their shores to at last secure the sea lanes once again and allow safe passage for cargo and passenger ships. Until that happens, cruise ships and cargo vessels remain prey for the ocean terrorists, and the sea lanes will remain unsafe and insecure, adding cost to our imports and exports and loosing the East African economies mega bucks in lost tourist dollars.