Global agencies cool to India’s proposal on piracy

To ensure the safety of its fishermen after incidents such as Enrica Lexie, India is demanding the rollback of an international guideline that was changed over two years back to designate seas close to its western coast as at a high risk of piracy.

Following increasing cases of piracy near Somalia that occasionally extended as far as Lakshadweep, industry bodies working in tandem with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) — constituted in 2009 following a U.N. resolution with States and international bodies as members to work together to rid the seas of piracy — decided to move the longitude marking off the high-risk area in the Arabian Sea from 65 degrees to 78 east. The new classification extended the high-risk area much closer to the Indian coast barring the nation’s territorial waters of 12 nautical miles. The guidelines for ships advise them on evasive action against piracy.

Shipping experts say that the changed classification resulted in ships hugging the Indian coast and often cruising in Indian territorial waters — from Mangalore to Kanyakumari — while transiting the Arabian Sea. Many of these merchant vessels have armed guards as allowed by IMO.

The Enrica Lexie incident, in which Italian marines shot and killed two Indian fishermen some 22 nautical miles off the coast, was a direct fallout of the changed regulations, experts say. Soon after Enrica Lexie, m.v. Prabhu Daya, hugging the coast, collided with a fishing boat off the Kerala coast.

Initially, India wanted the longitude to be moved back to 65 degree but members of CGPCS balked. As a result, on Tuesday, at a meeting of a sub-group of Working Group-3 (WG3) of the CGPCS, India will make a fresh plea for exemption of its fishing zones from the ‘danger zone’ listing in ‘Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy’, an industry document endorsed by IMO and CGPCS.

Global agencies cool

India’s proposal that seas close to its western coast be removed from the list of High Risk Areas (HRA) for piracy has not been met with warmth by global agencies.

After the piracy menace spread to near Lakshadweep, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard had embarked on a sustained anti-piracy campaign in the East Arabian Sea. A top Coast Guard officer is categorical in pointing out that false piracy alarms received at the Mumbai-based Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) at the rate of one every fortnight not counting, there has been no incident of piracy in the region over several months in the past.

Buoyed by the let-up in piracy, India unsuccessfully demanded a revision of HRA delimitation (return to west of 65 degree east longitude) at the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO. But, BMP4 is an industry document, “not a matter for IMO per se,” said Natasha Brown, IMO’s External Relations Officer, in an e-mail to The Hindu.

A key official at India’s Directorate General of Shipping rues that notwithstanding an advisory it issued cautioning ships against mistaking frenetic fishing activity up to 50 nautical miles from the country’s coastline for acts of piracy, cargo ships continue to transgress fishing zones, raising concerns. At least two recent incidents — the first, some 17 nautical miles off Vizhinjam in Kerala in November last when a cargo vessel resorted to firing to force a fishing boat alter course and the second, at the mouth of the Cochin Port in December when flares were shot in the air to distract a boat— point to the fact that conflict between fishermen and merchant vessels has sadly become the order of the day.

The reason: the region is still designated a ‘High Risk Area’ as per BMP4.

Jiyoung Kim, Foreign Affairs official of South Korea that chairs the CGPCS’ WG3, which worked closely with the industry in completing the BMP4 guideline, maintained that the appeal of India and Egypt for a revision of the scope of HRA would be discussed on an objective and transparent basis at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It is industries, as editors of the BMPs, that define and revise the scope of the HRA… At the latest WG3 meeting, industries expressed that they do not consider the revision of the BMP4 including the scope of the HRA, in spite of the proposal of India and Egypt. WG3 chair suggested holding a meeting on the HRA within parties interested in order to continue the discussions on the scope of HRA,” he replied in an email communication.

Separately, the Indian National Shipowners’ Association’s plea to the Joint War Committee, a forum of insurance undertakers based in London, for a review of the ‘Listed Areas’ for insurance set by Lloyd’s and the Joint War Risk Committee has not received a positive response. “The situation is being monitored but the area is unchanged for now,” Neil Roberts, senior executive-underwriting of Lloyd’s Market Association, confirmed in an email.

The fallout of the classification was an exorbitant hike in insurance premiums of vessels bound for zones with enhanced risk. The premiums came down following deployment of armed guards on their ships, as most providers of security collaborated with insurance groups. “It is paradoxical that the short-term expedient, which has helped thwart pirate attacks, is posing other challenges, including legal issues,” said an industry observer.

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