01 NOV 2009
The prime purpose of this article is to circulate to other members a report from the master giving an account of an actual transit during which one hijacking and two further attempts took place, the procedures involved prior to the transit, and to outline the measures we, as operators, took in preparation for the transit.
Early in 2009, a Panamax bulk carrier of 63,325 DWT under our operation was fixed to carry a cargo of wheat from Novorossiysk to Gwadar in Pakistan.Clearly, from a commercial operations perspective, this voyage involved a number of potential pitfalls in addition to the Gulf of Aden transit, and the decision was made to "split" the voyage into four sections, namely the loading at Novorossiysk, Suez transit, Gulf of Aden transit and discharge at Gwadar.
The first "section" of this voyage, the loading at Novorossiyk, had the potential for difficulties to be encountered with the Russian authorities in respect of ballast water quality and fines for incorrect medicine locker inventory and associated storage of medicines such as morphine. From a cargo perspective there were concerns about the bill of lading quantity of the cargo to be shipped, along with the actual quality of the cargo.
Similarly, at Gwadar there were concerns regarding the method used to calculate the cargo outturn.
Gard's website was researched in order to obtain updated information on these issues, and close contact was maintained with the Club throughout the loading, during the passage and throughout the discharge, to ensure that none of the risks identified led to an eventual claim. By appointing Club correspondents and additional surveyors to attend from the time of the vessel's arrival at both Novorossiysk and Gwadar the voyage was successfully completed without incident or claim. In particular, the service provided by the Club's correspondents in Novorossiysk was of notable assistance in continuous sampling of the cargo, sealing the vessel's holds and carrying out draft surveys.
Turning to the focus of this article, the Gulf of Aden transit, it is fair to say that no matter how much we had read about the situation and the preparations that were made, it was only when the vessel actually transited the area that it became clear just how serious the situation is and the many hazards that a vessel faces, along with the natural apprehension that will affect the crew during transit.
As operators of the vessel it was clear that a valuable asset under our management was about to embark on a voyage through hazardous waters and as a company it was imperative that all available efforts, both ashore and on board, had to be concentrated on the task of ensuring that all risks of the vessel being hijacked were minimised.
Before the voyage, there was an opportunity to bring the master of the vessel to London in order to fully brief him on the roles of MTO Dubai1 and MSCHOA2 in assisting the vessel during the transit. The master was also provided with all updated information concerning the situation in the Gulf of Aden, given details of the best practices to observe during transit and advised as to how the reports to both MTO Dubai and MSCHOA were to be compiled. The actual transit was discussed in detail and it was agreed that the vessel would transit the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) at a speed of 12 knots, which would give the vessel sufficient redundancy in order to enable the master to increase speed should the vessel come under attack during the transit. Little did we know at the time that this redundancy would indeed be required.
Our company had already registered with MSCHOA some months earlier and all preparations were therefore in place to enable the master to register his vessel for transit. In our office we ensured that the relevant British Admiralty chart was available to monitor the vessel's progress and the company's tracking system for the vessel was re-programmed in order to obtain an hourly update of the vessel's course, position and speed. Shortly prior to commencement of the vessel's transit, a test of the vessel's security alert systems took place and the company used this test to exercise their security response procedures.
Before proceeding to Captain Tziatzios's narrative, we would like to take this opportunity to thank MSCHOA, MTO Dubai, the coalition forces involved at the time of transit and Gard for their advice and support leading up to and during the vessel's transit, which undoubtedly contributed to ensuring the safe passage of the vessel.
The following is Captain Tziatzios's narrative of his preparation for and actual transit of the Gulf of Aden:
Preparing to enter the corridor
On the same day a meeting took place on board, attended by all the ship's officers, including the chief mate, the chief engineer and the ship security officer (SSO). The main issue of discussion was the increased risk of pirate attack that now existed in the Gulf of Aden and the measures that the vessel would take to ensure that early detection of suspicious craft would be made and the actions to be taken thereafter, should the vessel come under attack. We carried out our own risk assessment and consulted all the circulars and guidelines provided by our flag state, our operators and international shipping organisations, such as Intertanko, as well as the Ship Security Plan regarding pirate attacks. At noon a further e-mail was sent to MSCHOA in which the time and date of our arrival at point A was re-confirmed.
On 16th March a full security drill was carried out to exercise all personnel in their duties to ensure early detection of a potential attack and thereafter their duties and the actions to be taken during an actual hijacking or a hostile boarding. After the drill a full de-briefing took place in which all the crew participated and it was confirmed that all personnel were fully conversant with the additional anti-piracy measures that were going to be implemented in the following days.
An e-mail to MTO Dubai was also sent and it was apparent that, despite this being our first direct communication with them, the vessel was already under their close surveillance. The details provided included all the necessary ship's data, the estimated date and time of arrival at point A, along with the estimated time of exiting the transit corridor at point B. We also sent a complete passage plan, which included all waypoints and ETA at our destination port of Gwadar. Throughout this voyage the vessel would remain under surveillance of MTO Dubai.
On 17th March a successful security alert system test took place and the chief officer undertook a thorough inspection of the condition and operational capability of all security equipment, which included projectors, cargo lights, flashlights, fire hoses and portable VHFs that were going to be used by the crew to carry out the anti-piracy measures. He confirmed that everything was in order and ready for use.
Later that same day updates were sent to MSCHOA and MTO, Dubai.
At 2:15 on 19th March the vessel passed 15°00' North southbound and all the necessary reports were provided to the relevant parties. At this point the vessel was bound to report her position, speed and course regularly until we arrived at point B of the IRTC.
As we passed the 15°00' North parallel we began to adjust our speed in order to reach entry point A of the IRTC at 08:30.
During 18th March the vessel continued to sail at reduced speed and all the equipment required for the vessel's anti-piracy measures was positioned and was once again inspected and successfully tested for operational readiness.
Ready to enter the Gulf of Aden
On 19th March at 0:30 the vessel entered the Gulf of Aden, still at reduced engine revolution. I decided to follow an eastbound course so as to keep a safe distance from the Somali coast and still join the vessel convoy at our rendezvous point (point A, or 45°00' East) at 08:30.
As planned, we arrived at point A at 08:30 and joined the other convoy vessels and continued to sail together at 12 knots. At this point the relevant report was sent to MSCHOA and MTO Dubai.
While hearing the attack taking place we raised the alarm on board and all ship's personnel mustered to their posts ready to encounter any threat that may materialise against our vessel.
The coalition frigate advised all vessels in the convoy to keep a safe distance from the hijacked vessel and to assume a different course.
An attack successfully repelled
During this period the vessel's main searchlight projector was used to scan the area for any potential threats. At 22:50 the Turkish vessel reported that the attack had been successfully repelled by her crew. However, due to the close proximity of this attempted hijack we maintained our heightened state of readiness for a considerable time. Eventually the vessel did return to a state of detection rather than defence, at which point there was a genuine air of relief amongst all on board. However, this was to be short lived.
After a few moments we also visually observed the two speedboats and increased our speed whilst maintaining a close watch on the targets.
Shortly afterwards a flare was fired above the two speedboats and they immediately increased speed and set a course to leave the area. At this point coalition helicopters had arrived; they were the source of the flare and were now patrolling the area around the convoy.
We continued to sail towards point B maintaining a course of 072°, albeit with increased engine revolution and sea speed of 13.5 knots, as recommended by the coalition forces. At 12:00 all the relevant daily reports were sent and at 19:00 we established VHF contact with a further coalition frigate operating in the area.
At this point I should also mention that during the day a large number of false reports were received regarding other small craft, a phenomenon that can only be attributed to the heightened state of alert of the vessel and the high anxiety of the crew following the previous attacks.