There is an ongoing debate in the Netherlands on the protection of ships under the flag of the Netherlands against maritime piracy. The discussions are mainly concentrated on the issue of protection by the Royal Navy or private armed security guards. Defendants of the first possibility point at the principle of lethal force which lies in the hands of the government, a system which should be left intact. Defendants of the second option consider protection by the Royal Navy too expensive without the for shipping important, flexibility. This discussion, which is already lasting for years, also in the Dutch parliament, gives no satisfying solution.
Security experts in the Netherlands, such as the Maritime Security Alliance, pleads for another approach such as the employment of peaceful technical equipment which is available in large quantities of every type and construction. The principle is not to fight the eventual pirate but to protect vessel, crew and cargo. The method is a system of layers whereby the distance between ship and pirate stipulates which techniques are being used. At a distance equipment, such as light, sound and laser cannons, could be applicable. These methods are creating a very disagreeable situation for the pirates which could make them decide to cancel the attack. On a closer distance, water cannons could be used which completely deregulate persons on which they are aimed. On a closer distance, more barriers could be created such as curtains of ropes which cause the propeller of the piracy boat to jam.
Boarding of pirates can be prevented by using special bulkheads attached to the ship’s side, which are impossible to climb across. The latest barrier should be a bullet-proof safe room or citadel in which the crew could eventually hide.
All these techniques are available and tested on their individual functions. They fulfil the need to protect the vessel without military or private security personnel. Instead the crew provides the necessary cover after being trained in using the available means of protection. In order to learn how deterrent they really are and in which circumstances the various combinations are most effective, several vessels have been equipped with various kinds of appliances and tested, for example on the North Sea. From these tests it became apparent that this equipment can serve as a solid basic defence for any vessel which is navigating in a high risk area.
From: ”The Ingenieur” by Maurits Westerbeek van Eerten.
Mr. Westerbeek, a former ship officer of Holland America Line, is technical director of the Westmark company which is part of the Maritime Security Alliance in The Netherlands
Most neighbouring countries have decided to allow private security teams on board their national flagged vessels, mostly under rigid restrictions, the last one being France. So far the Netherlands has not followed this strategy, although there is a strong lobby in the Dutch parliament which will result in proposals by the government to eventually allow private security guards, if military personnel is not available. In the end, ship owners have to make the decision because they will have to pay the enormous fees of the security firms. Last but not least, there should be a listening ear for the seafarer who actually has to navigate in the high risk areas which include many more areas than just the Indian Ocean. Although there is a majority in favour of armed security guards, others maintain that arms on board could lead to more violence and possible victims. As the shipmaster is responsible in every respect, he could become in a very difficult position in many countries in the world. (FVW)