The threat to maritime trade from Somali pirates continues and ship operators should stay vigilant and adhere to best management practices, according to leading private maritime security company Sea Marshals Ltd, which counsels against complacency at this time.

Latest security industry intelligence points to a likely upsurge in pirate attacks, particularly given recent releases of hijacked vessels and a reduction in attack success rates.

Thomas Jakobsson, chief of operations for UK headquartered Sea Marshals Ltd, says: “Private maritime security companies are expecting the pirate attack groups to renew their activity in the coming months as they try to acquire more vessels.

“It is essential that vessels maintain a high state of preparedness and our team leaders, who are well trained in analysing intelligence and threat reports, are working hard to ensure this information is communicated to Masters and crew before and during transits through the high risk area. Now is definitely not the time for complacency,” he warns. “Any lapse in security or failure to follow BMP4 just plays into the hands of the pirates and significantly increases the risk of attack or capture.”

Sea Marshals advises all its clients of the need to robustly comply with BMP4 as applicable to their vessel, particularly the reporting requirements and vessel hardening measures. Sea Marshals’ own standard operating procedures are built around all relevant BMP4 recommendations. In addition, the company places huge emphasis on training its personnel in the rules on use of force and the implementation of non-violent measures at all times.

Steve Collins, Sea Marshals’ operations manager, points out:“The best management practices are an essential tool in the fight against piracy and in protecting the vessel, its crew and our onboard security team.”

Yet there are still instances of ships not complying with BMP. In fact the Maritime Security Centre, Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) monitors vessels’ adherence with BMP4 and reports instances of non-compliance on a monthly basis.

Collins says:“Much is being made of the recent decrease in attacks, availability of naval forces in the region and armed guards proving an effective deterrent, and rightly so. But we are now seeing this translate to a potentially worrying lack of vigilance and due care by vessels in the high risk area. Even with these procedures being advised and our team leaders trying to enforce them, we have documented instances of masters refusing to follow them. Our teams cannot override the master’s wishes without being seen to be disrespectful, breaching our acknowledgment of SOLAS and IMO recommendations and, of course, without losing the trust and working relationship with the master and crew that is vital to a safe transit.”

Any such non-compliance is also a breach of Sea Marshals’ own standard operating procedures. Collins says security operatives on any non-compliant vessel will adapt and report as best they can during the transit but the company will take such a breach seriously and may refuse to embark the vessel in future unless procedures are implemented correctly.

“Sea Marshals Ltd is engaging with ship-owners, clients, Masters and crew to stress the importance of BMP4 regardless of what the perceived threat level is,” he says.“We must all ensure the situation in the region of Somalia does not escalate again.”