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Arctic Sea Saga Highlights Gaps In Maritime Policy

by Robert Lee,, London

13 August 2009

The case of an allegedly hijacked ship that sailed unchallenged through the English Channel highlights the "glaring gaps" in the national and international maritime security regime, Nautilus International, a global maritime industry union, warns.

The Russian-owned general cargo ship Arctic Sea passed through the Dover Strait late last month, just days after it was apparently seized by masked gunmen off Sweden. An extensive international maritime search for the vessel is now underway.

Nautilus International General Secretary Mark Dickinson said the case raises worrying questions about the state of maritime security: “It is alarming that, in the 21st century, a ship can apparently be commandeered by hijackers and sail through the world’s busiest waterway with no alarm being raised and no naval vessel going to intercept it.”

“It is unbelievable that a ship can sail around for more than a fortnight with no one seemingly knowing its precise location or who is in control,” he added. “We do not believe the authorities would have taken such a relaxed approach to a hijacked aircraft, yet it seems that ships and seafarers continue to be treated with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach that has led to the shipping industry being the Achilles' heel of global security.”

The union, which represents more than 24,000 ship masters, officers, ratings and other maritime professionals, points out that the House of Commons transport committee report warned, in 2006, how “piracy provides a tempting and successful demonstration to terrorists of what can be achieved with relatively straightforward equipment and organisation”.

The report also stated: “Well organised and determined terrorists could take control of a ship and use it to achieve terrible ends.”

In Dickinson’s opinion, the response to these concerns has been one of immense complacency – underlined by the continued surge in piracy cases around the world and a further report from the House of Commons defence committee, which highlighted shortfalls in the resources available for UK maritime security and a lack of coordination to deal with the threat of a seaborne terrorist attack.

The union will be raising its concerns with a motion on piracy and maritime security at the TUC Congress next month.

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