Piracy uptick off Somalia partly the maritime sector’s own fault, says consultant

There is evidence that perhaps the maritime industry may have itself to blame for the recent rise in piracy incidents off Somalia, according to Cheryl Strauss Einhorn in a blog on the Council For Foreign Relations web site.

Einhorn, founder of CSE Consulting and author of Problem Solved, a Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence & Conviction, teaches as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School

She noted that the recent Somali hijacking of the Aris 13, a Comoros-flagged fuel tanker belonging to a Greek company, should have been a wake-up call to the shipping industry. “It seems that the maritime industry is a lot like many of us individually, prone to assumption, judgment, and common cognitive biases including confirmation bias, where we overvalue information that confirms our existing beliefs and salience bias, where we overweight evidence that is recent and vivid”, she wrote.

Einhorn said that when piracy was front page news in 2011, maritime security costs shot up to $7bn a year as the industry installed extensive security systems, including the lobbying for and receiving of expensive navy patrols. Protocols were introduced to re-schedule ships to take longer routes. Sometimes ship speeds were increased, with a concomitant increase in fuel costs. Relevant insurance rates also increased.

This coordinated vigilance worked, said Einhorn. Piracy dropped from a peak of 488 incidents in 2011 to stabilize near 36 incidents each in 2015 and 2016 (figures from Oceans Beyond Piracy)

Industry security costs fell to $1.7bn in 2016 as the coordinated maritime efforts relaxed. “… the industry’s memory has faded and collective attention to piracy has waned. As incidents dropped, international naval patrols have stopped, partly replaced by intelligence gathering and communication protocols.” Einhorn noted that security on the seas now rested with independent nations like China and Japan.

Private security forces had also declined in number in the Indian Ocean. In 2011 private security cost nearly $60,000 per transit. Rates are lower today, but only 34%

of ships were still using armed guards, Einhorn claimed, noting that even those vessels that did have armed guards tended not to carry the recommended four-man teams.

Einhorn said that the Aris hijacking reportedly took place while the vessel was travelling well below the recommended speed for the Socotra Gap, a route between Ethiopia and the island of Socotra in Yemen often used by vessels traveling along the east coast of Africa as a shortcut to save time and money.

The Aris’s crew was reportedly released after the pirates emptied a safe on board holding about $70,000.

Einhorn concluded: “Maybe it’s time for the maritime industry to stop traversing its well-worn mental pathways and to pry open some cognitive space to allow for new information and insight to take hold. Then it might see that it’s mixing up causation and correlation. Piracy didn’t drop because it’s waning. It’s been thwarted by costly and effective international coordination.” https://tinyurl.com/y83jk7br