Archive for January 2016

Weapons on the Water, Violence at Sea   1 comment

“Brace yourself.” This was the subject line of an email I received from a source at Interpol.

Attached was a video showing the gruesome killing of at least four unarmed men floating in the ocean. The video was the beginning of a story I wrote about violence on the high seas, part of a series calledThe Outlaw Ocean.

The video, which had been discovered on a cellphone left in the back of a taxi in Fiji, shows four large fishing ships circling the men in the water, clinging to what looked like the wreckage of a wooden boat. One by one, the four men are shot in view of dozens of witnesses. At the end of the video the men who filmed the incident pose for selfies.

It seemed amazing to me that in an era of drones and GPS, of big data and crowdsourcing, virtually nothing was known about these killings — not the perpetrators nor the victims, much less the location, timing or motives.

Maritime security experts I spoke to about the video had the same basic response: Violence at sea is far more prevalent than most people realize, and most of it looks nothing like the movie “Captain Phillips.”

Small cargo and fishing vessels (not huge Western-owned container ships) are the usual targets of violent attack. Assaults are most common along the border between national and international waters, where poachers roam and fishing competition is fiercest. Coastal Nigeria, the Bay of Bengal and the waters near Indonesia are said to be especially perilous.

As part of our reporting, a photographer and I went on an Indonesian vessel to visit some of the more violent areas in the central area of the South China Sea. We hoped to talk to the crews and captains on the fishing and cargo boats that cross these waters. When we spotted these boats, we were careful to approach them with caution, especially at night. If a crew did not wave back when we greeted or signaled them, we turned back.

In these and nearby waters, boat captains told us that handguns had been fixtures on merchant and fishing vessels. More recently, however, semiautomatic and automatic weapons replaced these smaller arms.

Weapons are forbidden in most ports globally. But they are easy to hide, and port inspectors rarely check for them. Dumping them overboard is always an option, too. (Also, the cost of the guns tends to be less than the potential fines for being caught with them.)

Most of the big shipping companies now carry armed guards and, in order to sidestep weapons bans, rely on floating armories. These are ships that park themselves in international waters and serve both as weapons storage depots and low-end hotels for armed guards between deployments.

The armories are controversial because they are generally unregulated and many countries don’t like to have foreign arms caches so close to their shores.

The photographer Ben Solomon and I traveled to the Gulf of Oman to visit two of these armories. One night around 11 o’clock, a ship that was transporting us and a dozen private guards slowed to a crawl after losing power to one of its two engines. The ship’s captain seemed nervous and I asked why. “See that?” he said, pointing to the mountainous coast visible from our port side. “That’s Iran.”

The current was pushing toward its coast, he explained. If the second engine died, he said, his ship could easily drift into national waters, less than a half-mile away. “Not a welcome place for a ship full of armed British and American private security guards,” he added.

When we arrived at the first armory, the guards described their routines and complained — about boredom, bad food, filthy conditions and lack of WiFi — on some of the ships on which they worked.

A couple of the men recounted tales of firefights at sea. One afternoon, sitting on the upper deck with three of the guards, I showed them the video of the killings. Huddled over my iPhone, the men watched all 10 minutes 26 seconds of the footage. When it was over, one of them leaned back and broke what had become an awkward silence.

“Not how I would’ve handled it,” he said, “but that’s how it sometimes gets handled.”

Insider will go behind the scenes on each installment of the Outlaw Ocean series. Read the back story on Part 1: Stowaways and Crimes Abroad a Scofflaw Ship. Read the rest of the series here.


Posted January 25, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

Indian Trial Delayed for Enrica Lexie Marines   1 comment

LexieTanker Enrica Lexie (file image courtesy Sugeesh, Wikimedia Commons)

By Reuters

The Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed one of two Italian marines facing murder charges over the deaths of two Indian fishermen to stay in his home country until April 30 following heart surgery.

The decision defuses a possible judicial standoff after an Italian senator said the day before that Massimiliano Latorre would not return to face trial as he had been due to by this Friday, having earlier been allowed home for medical treatment.

“We allow him to stay in Italy until April 30 on health grounds,” a three-judge bench of India’s highest court said in its order.

The Supreme Court set a hearing on April 13 to take up the case of the marines, who stand accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast almost four years ago.

They were part of a military security team protecting the oil tanker Enrica Lexie and say they mistook the fishermen for pirates.

The Italian government, which is at loggerheads with India over the case, said the Indian court could not make any decisions regarding Latorre before an international arbitration hearing at The Hague that it has requested

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg ordered India to suspend legal action against Latorre and the second sailor on trial, Salvatore Girone, pending the hearing.

“(Latorre) can therefore stay in Italy for the entire duration of the international arbitration process,” Italy’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Girone is still at the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

The fallout from India’s arrest of the marines has damaged wider relations between Italy and India, contributing to the collapse of a European Union-India summit last year.

Prior to Latorre’s return, outrage among Italians at the pair’s imprisonment was writ large on banners, suspended from prominent buildings in some city centres, that read “We will bring the marines home”.

In another case this week, a court in Tamil Nadu sentenced 35 crew members of a private American ship – 25 of them foreigners – to five years in jail for illegal possession of arms in Indian waters.

Posted January 15, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

Seaman Guard Ohio Crew Sentenced to Five Years in Jail   1 comment

GuardFile photo

By Reuters 

A court on Monday sentenced crew members of a private American ship, including 25 foreigners, to five years in prison for illegal possession of arms in Indian waters in a verdict that could spark diplomatic tension.

The crew, which included foreign nationals from Ukraine, Estonia and six British former soldiers, was arrested aboard the AdvanFort security ship Seaman Guard Ohio in 2013 after they failed to produce papers authorising them to carry weapons in India’s territorial waters. Ten Indians were also arrested.

The court in Tuticorin, in Tamil Nadu, found the crew guilty of violating Indian laws by possessing prohibited arms. It also fined each crew member 3,000 rupees ($45).

“This judgment is totally unfair and a great injustice to the accused,” Arumugaram Ravipandian, a lawyer representing all 35 crew members, said.

Ravipandian said his clients would seek bail and challenge the verdict in a higher court.

The crew, which spent nine months in prison after the incident, has been out on bail but not allowed to leave India since 2013.

Paul Towers, a former British soldier among those convicted, said the weapons on board their ship were properly registered.

“We are speaking to our consulate … this is not justice,” said Towers.

The British High Commission in New Delhi said it was providing consular assistance but could not interfere in another country’s judicial process.

“Our staff in India and the UK have been in close contact with all six men since their arrest to provide support to them and their families, including attending court,” it said in a statement.

“Ministers have also raised this case at the highest levels, pressing for delays to be resolved.”

No comment was immediately available from the Ukrainian and Estonian embassies.

The southern tip of India is close to major trade routes and cargo ships often travel with armed guards to deter pirates.

The ship was operated by a U.S. maritime security firm and the incident highlighted the loosely regulated practice of placing guards on ships for protection against pirate attacks.

Action by the Indian authorities has led to diplomatic rows in similar cases. Relations between India and Italy soured after a 2012 incident in which two Italian marines allegedly killed two Indian fishermen mistakenly believed to be pirates.

(Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Douglas BusvineRobert Birsel)

Posted January 15, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

A Seafarer’s Account of Capture by Pirates   1 comment

A Seafarer's Account of Capture by Pirates

Tu, aged 25, is a Vietnamese seafarer. He worked on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel which was attacked by Somalian pirates then held in captivity from 25th December 2010 to 17th July 2012.

Tu narrated this story in December 2015. He has permitted the translation of his story for use by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP).

Below is a summary. Download the full account here.

On 25th December 2010, Tu was woken up by the sound of an alarm. He was told the fishing vessel was under attack and that the crew was reeling in the fishing equipment in order to retreat. However, upon seeing a Korean tanker in the distance, the crew believed they were safe and continued with their day. Then they saw motorboats approaching and within minutes the pirates had boarded their vessel. The pirates were armed and their plan was to use the fishing vessel to detect and capture hostages from other ships.
The crew were fed on rice that had been wet for some time and had started to mould. At first, the crew refused the rice but realising they would not eat without it, they learned to at first pinch their noses to avoid the smell, then eventually they became used to the moulding food. During this period, the pirates would contact the ship owner and demand a ransom, then be turned down as the amount was thought too much.

Eventually, the vessel’s fuel ran out and the pirates tortured the chief engineer when he could suggest no way to restart the engine. However, the second engineer advised them to open all the fuel oil tanks to collect the remaining oil, and this was enough to reach an island. For a short time, the crew persuaded the pirates to let them fish, then the pirates retracted their permission. Some of the crew fished anyway, but if they were caught, they were beaten.

After some time, the vessel drifted and ran aground. The crew were then transferred to land by motorboats. They stayed in an uninhabited house, and were made to carry all the equipment from the vessel ashore, they were forced to carry twice their body weight and were beaten if they could not manage. The crew found some rolls of string and knitted fishing nets, they again persuaded the pirates to let them fish (by swimming out to sea), this was again short lived as the sea was rough and the pirates did not want to lose the money from any of their hostages if they drowned. One day, the pirates made the skipper phone the ship owner and demand a ransom, and when he was refused, they beat him. The pirates began beating and torturing the rest of the crew when their demands were refused.

Later, the pirates led the crew into the forest where they lived under the shade of a tree. They were so hungry, they weren’t sure they would survive and started to catch grasshoppers to eat. To drink, the pirates gave them a strange dark liquid that was bitter and caused them stomach pains and kept them awake. However, if they did not drink it, they would go thirsty. One day, one of the seafarers woke to find pimples all over his body; it transpired they were maggots living under his skin. Other members of the group soon had the same problem.

One day, an interpreter arrived and asked them what they had been dreaming of. They naturally replied being released, and he informed them that this day had come. The crew cried with happiness. They were then separated into two groups, one would be taken to the location where the ransom was to be dropped by aircraft, and the other would be held back until the money was received. A naval ship had come to collect the group, but the sea was rough and the motorboats they had originally sent to transfer them ran ashore. Instead, a helicopter was sent to transfer them, and the Chinese naval ship took the crew to Tanzania where they stayed at the Vietnamese embassy until they were repatriated.

Tu was relived to be home but was in a state of panic due to having been in captivity for such a long period. His loved ones were surprised at his changeable behaviour. He swore that he would never return to sea after the incident, but was forced to break his oath as he was unable to find another job ashore.

However, he married in early 2015 and continues to lead his life as a free man.


Posted January 15, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

Ukrainian Seafarers attacked by armed robbers in Trinidad   1 comment

Main Story Image

Seafarers from the Miss Ann back in Odessa in the ASOL office, with family members and Alexander Dimitrevich of MPHRP

Recruited in Odessa, the seven seafarers were tasked with bringing the tug “Miss Ann” (IMO: 7031151) from Colombia to Europe. Orders were given to sail to the Mediterranean, without a specific destination. The tug, built in the 1960s, was not in very good condition and in the Caribbean one of the rudder mounts, rusted through, gave way and the whole unit was lost. Fortunately they were not far from Trinidad, arrived there and dropped anchor in a bay to see what could be done regarding repairs.Weeks stretched to months waiting for spare parts to enable the voyage to continue, and a request was made for them to cross the Atlantic with one remaining rudder functioning, which the crew refused to do until satisfactory repairs were made.

On 2nd of November 2015 during the night, the tug was attacked by six armed robbers with guns and knives. They tied up the crew, beat the Master with the butt of a gun and threatened to shoot him, seeking cash and valuables. Before dawn, the criminals took all the valuable personal effects of the seafarers and left the ship.

The seafarers sought help from the Ukrainian Embassy. Funds for repatriation were sourced from families and from the Ukrainian community, and they were all flown home. Much of the wages due to the seafarers remain unpaid. The Ukrainian Maritime Charity ‘ASOL’ and MPHRP in Ukraine and Eastern Europe has met the seafarers and they are working jointly with other local partners to provide support as they seek the balance of their wages and compensation for what has been stolen.

Posted January 3, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

Iranian Navy Rescues Tanker From Pirates   2 comments

SabalanFile photo of the Iranian warship Sabalan (courtesy U.S. Navy)

By MarEx 

The Iranian Navy warship Sabalan recently defended a tanker from a pirate attack at the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, Iran’s defense authorities announced Wednesday.

Pirates in six boats approached an unnamed Iranian tanker. Her master issued a mayday call and the Sabalan responded quickly. The Sabalan’s crew opened fire on the pirates, who fled.

The Sabalan and combat support ship Tonb have been in the region since December 1 on an anti-piracy mission. Iran has conducted patrols in the area since 2008, when it first dispatched naval vessels to address mounting problems with pirates. Its forces have deterred pirate attacks on the vessels of 20 nations, said Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, including a dramatic episode in June with two separate attacks within hours involving nearly a dozen pirate boats.

Pirate attacks in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and other areas off the Horn of Africa have declined in recent years as an international military presence and the carriage of armed guards reduced the pirates’ success rate.

But the Strait, a strategic pinch point for world shipping, is also the scene of heavy fighting on the Yemeni side, where Houthi rebels and allied military units have been fighting with Saudi-led pro-government forces. Analysts suggest that Iranian naval units were deployed there for anti-piracy operations but also for national security reasons, including a show of support for the Houthis.

The Sabalan, formerly the Rostam, was heavily damaged by American forces in 1988 in retaliation for the mine incident that crippled the USS Samuel B. Roberts.

Posted January 3, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS

Indonesia Steps Up Anti-Piracy Campaign   1 comment


By MarEx 

The Indonesian Navy’s Western Fleet (Armabar) is initiating a piracy prevention program that aims to raise awareness among young people.

The Jakarta Post reports Armabar’s commander Rear Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrachman saying that many of the people the navy arrests are teenagers employed by criminals but themselves unaware of the crimes they are committing.

“We will go to villages where most of the piracy suspects come from and start the campaign,” he said.

The first area targeted includes the islands of Riau as well as areas in and around the Malacca Strait and Natuna Island.

According to the Navy’s investigation, at least 90 percent of piracy cases in the area are instigated, often for insurance purposes, by people, both Indonesian and foreigners, other than the pirates themselves.

The Armabar recently arrested three pirates who stole oil from the tanker MT Joaquim last August in the Malacca Strait. At least one of the pirates had thought of himself as an employee and unaware he was undertaking criminal activities on behalf of his employer.

Posted January 3, 2016 by rrts in -NEWS