AIS and Anti-Piracy Maritime Security
Articles and TV news reports on piracy has dropped off of late, and this is not surprising given that the annual number of pirate attacks is now at its lowest level for 21 years. Attacks off the coasts of east Africa (Somalia in particular) and Southeast Asia have fallen sharply such that in the first half of 2016 there were 98 actual or attempted pirate attacks globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau. This is the lowest figure since 1995 and a sharp fall from the 134 recorded in the same period last year and the peak of 266 in the first six months of 2011.
This is not the end of the story, though, there are still anti-piracy measures we can take, especially when it comes to maritime security. There are some specific areas where piracy is endemic. The Sulu Sea, between the Philippines and Borneo, is one such area. There fast pirate boats prey on the local fishing vessels and slow tugs pulling barges carrying up to 5,000 tonnes of coal or palm oil. The most serious problems however are now off the west coast of Africa, where Nigerian gangs have adopted a new modus operandi.
Instead of seizing ships and their cargo they are instead kidnapping crew and holding them to ransom. Nigerian pirates kidnapped 24 crew members in the first half of this year, up from just 10 in the first six months of 2015. These incidents are also increasingly violent, with Nigerians accounting for eight of the nine incidents worldwide in which ships were fired on in the January-June period.
AIS and the fight against piracy
AIS is a two-way street when it comes to piracy. There has been speculation that pirates have been using AIS to spot vessels coming within range and even looking at the vessel information to see whether valuable or easily-saleable cargos are being carried. This is certainly something that ship’s masters should bear in mind when operating in waters where piracy is a risk. Turning off the AIS in these circumstances is a sensible precaution and article 21 of the rules governing the use of AIS makes full allowance for this:
‘If the master believes that the continual operation of AIS might compromise the safety or security of his/her ship, the AIS may be switched off. This might be the case in sea areas where pirates and armed robbers are known to operate.’
While it is too much to expect pirates to operate AIS on their own vessels, the vast majority of which would fall under the 300 GT threshold anyway, sophisticated AIS vessel tracking systems such as BigOceanData can be of great assistance to those responsible for route planning and generally monitoring the maritime security environment around vessels in which they have an interest.
Such systems integrate and overlay piracy information supplied by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre onto their visual mapping displays, allowing users to view information on attacks and suspicious activities on any scale from global to highly local. Time scales can be set for activity over just the past 12 hours to the last six months. Pop-up boxes show the date, time and position, the name and type of ship involved and details of the incident. Filters also allow the user to select one or more specific event types such as suspicious activities, hijacks, boarding events and full-blown attacks.
By operating an online AIS monitoring system with integrated piracy alerts, those with an interest in vessels at sea can of course continuously monitor their ships’ positions relative to any security issues past or present, giving them either the desired peace of mind or allowing them to relay instructions to their captains regarding precautionary measures. With the advent of the Internet of Things, it’s becoming increasingly easy for status reports such as the above to be sent automatically.
While the actual fight against piracy remains the responsibility of navies and coastguards, as it has for hundreds of years, AIS-based systems have an invaluable role to play in ensuring that vessels have the information they need to keep themselves out of harm’s way and, if necessary, to quietly disappear off the network for a few hours as they make full steam ahead for safer waters.
International Maritime Organisation
AIS regulations (SOLAS Ch.V Annexe 17)
ICC Live Piracy Report
Recent news articles
BigOceanData is a leader in maritime tracking and telemetry, delivering global vessel tracking and monitoring services along with fleet management tools via its sophisticated browser-based interface. Key features of the BigOceanData product include its ability to fuse data from AIS signals and a range of onboard satellite reporting systems so as to both improve position accuracy and reduce data costs. The system also integrates a series of data feeds and management tools that show users not only vessel locations and movements, but situational data such as marine charting, terrestrial mapping, weather and sea-state (current and forecast), and piracy and other security alerts.
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