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  8th September 2008 - STAR MARITIME

Piracy attack will result in extra costs for shippers

MALAYSIAN shipping companies plying the Far East-Europe trade will have to bear an extra 3,501 nautical miles if they avoid using the infamous pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.

The extra journey is also expected to cost shipping firm millions of ringgit if maritime crime in the Gulf of Aden is not promptly addressed.

About 11% of the world’s seaborne petroleum transportation pass through the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal or to other regional refineries in Europe.

Gulf of Aden provides the shortest maritime route from the Far East to Europe. Vessels that opt for an alternative journey will have to pass the Cape of Good Hope, and that will add 12 to 21 sailing days depending on the type of vessel and speed travelled.

Last week, MISC Bhd barred its vessels from entering the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden until security measures are enhanced.

This is after two of its tankers, Bunga Melati 2 and Bunga Melati 5, were hijacked by pirates in the area on Aug 19 and Aug 30 respectively.

Other than MISC vessels, recent cases of piracy in the gulf, believed to be the work of Somalian pirates, involved a bulk carrier, a tugboat, a general cargo vessel and a yacht.

In the second quarter of this year, Somalia was at the top of the list of global piracy cases with 24 piracy incidents, of which 19 occurred in the Gulf of Aden, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The Maritime Institute of Malaysia Centre for the Strait of Malacca research fellow Captain Rakish Suppiah told StarBiz that the passage from Port Kelang to Rotterdam using the Suez Canal and passing the Gulf of Aden would take about 25 days on a ship navigating at 13 knots for the distance of 8,089 nautical miles.

“Using the Cape of Good Hope would increase the sailing days by about 12 days approximately through a distance of 11,590 nautical miles at the same speed,” he said.

Besides longer journey and extra cost, Rakish said, vessel transiting the Cape of Good Hope would also suffer adverse weather condition at the southern tip of South Africa.

“Abnormal waves of up to 20 meters in height, preceded by deep troughs may be encountered in the area between the edge of the continental shelf and twenty miles to seaward.

“Vessels also need to be aware of the special regulations as the southern tip of South Africa have been declared as an International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Marpol) Special Area by the International Maritime Regulations effective Aug 1,” he said.

He added that there were also the risk of pirate attacks off the coast of Nigeria. “Also, the quality of perishable cargo will be affected as it will take a longer journey and shipping companies will have to bear with a longer vessel turnaround time,” he said.

As an option, Rakish said, merchant vessels trading in the Far East-Europe route could use the North East Arctic passage.

“This route, which is open for about more than six months per year for navigation, would allow time and distance saving but complications of ice build up along the route would also be another obstacle,” he said.

According to a seasoned captain from the maritime industry, the current increased cases of cargo vessels and tankers being hijacked by pirates would make the business more costly.

“The cost of insurance premiums is expected to escalate in view of this matter. This would increase the cost of operating the business,” he told StarBiz.

He said many vessels use the route through the Gulf of Aden to cut the journey time to Europe.

Sharing his own experience of sailing through the gulf, he said, although there were coalition warships to monitor the safety of the vessels, it would only take about five minutes for the swift pirates to board a ship.

He said it would take an additional three weeks to a month if vessels used the Cape Town route. “The extra usage of bunker will be reflected in increased operating cost,” he said.

However, he said, the extra fuel cost only affects shipping companies running on spot chartered vessels and not on time chartered vessels.


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