London Insurers form a private pirate-fighting fleet

Project raises more questions than it answers
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Insurers in the City of London are finalising plans to set up a private fleet of armed patrol boats in the Gulf of Aden, in a new drive to stamp out Somali piracy, but there's no indication that cruising yachts will be included or able to insure as a result of the plan.

The naval protection force was conceived by leading figures in the Lloyd's of London market. They have been working with ship owners, freight operators and governments for months, marshalling support for their plan.

While the plan raises more questions that it answers, the goal of the Convoy Escort Programme is to provide protection for tankers trying to navigate the seas off war-torn Somalia while also reducing the soaring costs of insuring vessels, cargo and crews against increasingly vicious attacks by pirates.

Key representatives of the shipping industry, including the Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco) have agreed to explore the idea further. Giles Noakes, the chief maritime security officer of Bimco, said that he would be briefing American politicians in Washington on the plan next week.

It is understood that the industry-led project is being monitored by the Royal Navy and its counterparts. The Times understands that the Navy would regard the escorts as a trial which, if successful, would allow naval vessels to hunt pirates in other areas.

If the fleet can secure funding and win the support of the shipping community, it could be up and running within six months. There are also plans to explore using former Nimrod maritime patrol air crews to provide aerial surveillance.

Sail-World Cruising questions how such a fleet would be better able to decide what to do with captured pirates than the navies currently patrolling the pirate zones. Among the different navies and their governments chaos reigns, with some pirates being turned loose to go back and pirate again, while others are arrested and handed over to third parties. Yet others have been flown to the arresting country and given severe jail sentences.

Success for the venture, which has tried to shun the 'private navy' tag, would mark a gear change in international efforts to clamp down on piracy. Despite a successful recent intervention by the Royal Navy, the pirates have escalated their activities sharply in the past fortnight, seizing an oil tanker and its 125 million-pound cargo and killing two of its Filipino crew, and finally kidnapping four American sailors and their yacht.

Under the plan, which has been developed over two years, a non-profit association involving private and public sector members would be set up. It would control a fleet of 18 vessels, each with a fixed gun position and an armed crew authorised to engage the pirates in battle.

Each vessel would carry eight armed security personnel and four additional crew as well as inflatable speedboats, known as 'Ribs', which could be dispatched into combat if the tankers they were protecting came under attack.

Although it would be managed separately, the fleet would be under the operational control of the relevant national navy and the crew would have to conform to international rules on combat and engagement.

One of the key architects of the CEP is Sean Woollerson, a partner in the marine, oil and gas division at Jardine Lloyd Thompson, a leading Lloyd's broker for companies seeking insurance protection, particularly for war risks and kidnap and ransom. KLT is organising the fleet through BGN Risk, a global security consultancy.

Mr Woollerson estimates that the programme would need about $US27.5 million to pay for 18 second-hand vessels, believed to be Swedish patrol boats. It is understood that the plan is to try to tap a $US200 million anti-piracy fund managed by the EU.

'It has taken an extraordinary amount of hard work and effort over the past two years, but we hope we're about 70 per cent of the way there,' Mr Woollerson told The Times.

JLT has been working on the project with insurance underwriters, including at Ascot Underwriting, another leading Lloyd's insurer.

Mr Woollerson said that the association would draw its members from shipping associations, charterers, oil companies, insurance underwriters, lawyers, governments and navies. With a rotating chairman, expected to be elected from among international ship-owning companies, it would have its own chief executive and management team. In theory, any ship seeking the protection of the fleet on a trip through the Gulf of Aden would be able to do so through her Lloyd's of London broker, Mr Woollerson said.

This article was posted by Neptune Maritime Security and edited by Sail-World. To find out more visit www.neptunemaritimesecurity.com
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