Piracy problem continues to plague maritime industry
Emboldened Somalis sailing farther to seek quarry
money as the frequency of hijackings increases, she said. Williams estimates there are currently 28 vessels and 576 seafarers being held as Somali pirates become more sophisticated with technology and they travel farther using captured vessels as mother ships. Last year at this time, pirates held 17 vessels and their cargoes.
Pirates are no longer the indigent fisherman using little skiffs to stop a behemoth tanker, but now part of organized crime syndicates protected by communities that are hard to infiltrate. As head of the London-based business that bears her name, Williams is deeply involved in piracy hostage negotiations, noting that crews were held an average of 155 days in 2010. She also said reports of torture and the use of captives as human shields are on the rise as pirates go to extremes to extract ransom from shipping companies.
Many shipping companies have begun hiring contractors to supply armed guards to chase away pirates, and for BLT Chembulk Group, a privately held firm with offices in Southport, the cost is worthwhile, according to Fred DeNigris, operations manager.
"We've been shadowed and approached," said DeNigris, noting that BLT Chembulk added the guards about a year ago. "(The guards) shot their guns in the air, and the pirates turned around. It absolutely does work."
The company, which ships chemicals, edible oils and occasionally petroleum, uses guards for three- to four-day periods as the vessels navigate through the troubled waters .
"It's expensive. We spend $20,000 to $40,000 to protect our ships," DeNigris said, adding that it costs $20,000 to $25,000 a day to run a ship whether it is moored or in operation. "We pay extra war-risk insurance when our ships go through dangerous areas."
DeNigris said there's an industry estimate that piracy costs $12 billion a year.
The spread of piracy is of paramount importance for U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Subcommittee of U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, who attended the Stamford event. "This is a very serious concern, costing lives and tens of billions of dollars for the maritime industry. I'm very disappointed that Congress isn't addressing this issue," he said.
While some nations take a stern approach by sending apprehended pirates to trial, others simply let them go, LoBiondo said.
The three-day CMA program, attended by more than 2,000 players in the global shipping industry, runs through Tuesday.