Enrica Lexie: Have we asked all the relevant questions?Any modern merchant ship is a well trained and disciplined organisation – not because sailors arenecessarily more enlightened, but because their survival depends on it (between PSCs and Audits andDrills and Logs and Mother nature).By very definition, discipline is a qualitative phrase but that quality to it is refined by repetitive enforcedrecurrence. Further, there is one phrase drilled into the psyche of a seagoing professional – “Call thecaptain” and represents the hierarchal nature of the merchantship order. There is no action, diversion,role play, ever.... without the ship’s master being informed (as goes the concept). [The exceptions (evenif it be an extended drinking party or fixing a fused nav light) are always with the ‘trepidation’ that thecaptain oughtave been informed.]--------------------------------------------------Enrica Lexie is an Italian merchant tanker ship and in Feb 2012 allegedly fired upon and killed two Indianfishermen off the coast of Kerala. This incident has caused much international debate and has raisedvarious concerns on armed gumen on foreign going ships. I propose that there already exist rules andcontrols that should have dictated actions.She (Enrica Lexie) plied the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden frequently – she was aware of piracy, its risksand their modus operandi in such prevalent areas. [BTW, for those who have forgotten, even theMalacca straits had an equal reputation when we used to sail those routes a few decades ago – anyoneremember the attacks enroute to/fro Singapore from those days.]So, since Enrica Lexie and her command were familiar with the waters she sailed and obviously(perforce) party to the ISPS code and had a clear drawn SSP and a designate SSO on board – why thendid they shoot to kill, and so early in the engagement. [for the uninitiated: ISPS code defines the securitypractices in port and at sea, basis which a ship has a Ship Security Plan which requires a designated ShipSecurity Officer who records / monitors and assigns action tasks in such matters. There is also anecessary Company Sec officer and compulsory liaison with various designate international authorities].The next query is what ROE (Rules of Engagement) were laid down for adoption on Erica Lexie....andwhat kind of training and discipline she enforced on the staff. Was their action in tune with theirdeclared ROE [Every SSP - and no ship can sail without one - has defined rules of engagement withpirates and stowaways, etc; documented training drills are compulsory).Erica Lexie fired upon and killed people – not in the face of counter fire, not when under direct attack,not seemingly under any ROE practice – but purely triggered on perception. It is similar to an airlinepilot shooting blindly through his door on hearing a knock. And in this case, it was not even a knock!!!I heard tell that oh, the poor sailors are under so much pressure that the chain of command is frequentlybroken down. Oxymoronic, all references! Whilst yes, pressures exist & differ some from those of anarmy man facing fire, of a police man guarding a street in Kashmir, of a fisherman fishing in roughseas..... these are still similar in origin and overlap in extension and are well catered and proudlymanaged.We all evidenced (and I was always proud of) the army that did not fire upon women and children in SriLanka (IPKF days), of the police that braves fire bottles with shield & batons, and of fisher folk onshallow draft boats braving sea (& piracy as well).And we do not condone where otherwise happened. [Did we excuse the policeman who went into overkill ‘encounter’ mode? Did we agree with the under pressure soldier who shot civilians because a carstart was loud, or even the king of his castle who shot and killed a mango plucking intruder?] Errors andomission under pressure can be duly considered when defining punitive judgement; but no civilizationcan or should relieve ones sanity over a temporal excuse. Homicide can be scaled in intent & atrocitybut certainly not glossed over!
Any sailor of experience will share witness of how fishing boats and even crafts of leisure will sail closepast them. With those on the bridge cursing them for not altering course....how many will also tell youof occasions where they too will wave sticks and shafts across at the ship ‘coz you cut the path of thefish they were following.... In fact, in most cases in open sea, a fishing boat will have right of way overthe powered larger ships.....and many others will also share the practice and drill they prepare to counter a boarding or suspectpirate attack. None will advocate literally shooting the buggers even before first sign of positive hostility.Mind you, two mobile floating contraptions passing half a kilometre or so apart is not considered a signof hostility. So, was there any attempt at boarding – the last we hear they were 250-300 metres apart[more than a quarter kilometre away].Now to technicalities – typical action when under perceived threat of a boarding: 1. Hail on the VHF, warn the approaching vessel. 2. Use the Aldis, switch on the cluster lamps (should be ready in infested waters). 3. Raise alarm on board, blow the fog horn. 4. Take evasive manoeuvre and alert the Engine room. 5. Have gun? Don’t kill – shoot warning shots. Start the fire pump, bristle with hoses streaming. 6. Have a show of force, have activity across all the rails - let them know you are bewared. 7. Wait for reaction or fire more warning shots and if time permits repeat all of above. 8. Shoot with license to kill only when first overt boarding act is done- or if they shoot back?!?!?These above are not only commonsensical, civilized action patterns; they are the typical actionguidelines documented on ships. [Some carry instructions that no direct confrontational force be used.]So, what was the threat adjudged and how was it countered.... that is the question and the answer tothe incident.Here is the ‘killer’ – if they were already in perceived pirate infested area, warnings received etc - hadthey taken pre-emptive action? The usual stuff you know, like barricading, teams ready, extra patrolsand more importantly: all lookouts with walkie-talkie in constant touch with bridge and captain. Underheightened threat perception these are typical measures any sailor worth his salt is aware of. More so,these are now a matter of documented policy on all ships – part of their sea worthiness certification.Was there any record of such preparation, did the SSO log this mandatory procedure and were all onboard anti-piracy teams (including the armed guards) kept in constant walkie-talkie contact. Isn’t all thispart of their SSP? [if no such pre-emption was undertaken, there was obviously no threat level orwarnings issued for this area and definitely no call for premature shooting - to kill]. No, I suspect thisincident stemmed more from a nonchalant disregard to events, exaggerated fears and possibly a healthymix of international prejudice.If you are truly a sailor, any perceived attack and consequences – would be shared with the nearest RCC,coast guard, a diligently logged safety transmission and a channel 16 to all ships.... A piracy attack wouldbe announced on all emergency broadcast procedures. [was this basic procedure of announcing to alland sundry followed? Surely the nearest coast guard was apprised and Mayday transmitted if underattack]. Even an incident not directly involving any other party like a man overboard or an unusualsighting of a floating object is readily transmitted... surely a shooting and perceived terror threat wouldhave been hailed outwards on all channels loud and clear. Once again, these are mandatoryprocedures ...or were they truly ignorant of this basic tenet?!? When in dangerous situations, theresponse plan include, a designated officer of the bridge who mans the panel and not transits safetyalerts, both for assist and as a warning of the vent to all other maritime traffic.
White arrow depicts typical ship route from Singapore towards Red Sea, entering from the Gulf of Aden.The red cross is ~20 miles off the sea side town of Alappuzha where the killing occurred on 15-Feb-2012.VOYAGE SECURITY ASSESMENTShip: DOLE CALIFORNIAVoyage # 411 SB /412 NB RouteSAN DIEGO (01st-03rd August 2004) DRUGS - POSSIBLE DELIVERY END OF DRUG TRAFFICKING, STOWAWAYS DISEMBARKING HIJACKING / TERRORISM AS VESSEL IS CLOSE TO U. S. NAVAL BASE POSSIBILITY OF CREW INVOLVEMENT IN CONTRABAND TRAFFICKING Copy of a Typical Voyage ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. Security AssessmentSAN DIEGO ~ PAITA (03rd-10th August 2004) undertaken before HIGH SEA PASSAGE, MINIMAL RISK OF PIRACY / SABOTAGE commencing a sail. ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. This is supplemented by logsPAITA (10th August 2004) LABOR UNREST AND STRIKE JETTY VULNERABLE TO THREAT DRUG / ARM SMUGGLING of additional information STOWAWAYS ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. received, actions planned,PAITA ~ GUAYAQUIL (10th-11th August 2004) pre-emptive measures taken, BOARDING WITH INTENTION OF PIRACY ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. breach of security andGUAYAQUIL (11th-12th August 2004) changes to ship’s security PIRACY, DRUG SMUGGLING, STOWAWAYS levels. CONTINUOUS MONITORING AT THE MAIN GATE OF BANANA PUERTO, ALL IDS CHECKED & TAKEN BY SECURITY GUARDS. This forms part of voyage risk CREW WHEN GOING ASHORE NEED TO CARRY THEIR IMMIGRATION PASS & SHIPS ID. PRIOR DEPARTURE K9 AND STOWAWAY SEARCH CARRIED OUT. assessment and prepares the ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. ship for eventuality andGUAYAQUIL ~ CALDERA (12th-14th August 2004) BOARDING WITH INTENTION OF PIRACY ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. responsible response plans.CALDERA (14th-15th August 2004) LABOR UNREST / STRIKE STOWAWAYS/DRUGS (K-9 DOG SEARCH & STOWAWAY & UNDERWATER SEARCHES CARRIED OUT, PRIOR TO DEPARTURE. Discipline begins here as such ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP. planning minimises knee-jerkCALDERA ~ SAN DIEGO (15th-22nd August 2004) HIGH SEA PASSAGE, MINIMAL RISK OF PIRACY / SABOTAGE reactions. ALL SECURITY MEASURES COMPLIED WITH AS PER SSP.REMARKS: SECURITY LEVEL REQUIREMENT TO BE ASSESED ACCORDING TO RECEIPT OFLATEST INFORMATION FROM CSO / LOCAL AUTHORITIES / FLAG STATESigned: MASTER SSO
All merchant ships have to document and follow clear action guidelines in case of adversity includingpiracy. They are to comply with the ISPS code and conduct regular drills, including at a company levelwhich includes mock scenarios. Records of these drills are inspected by PSC (Port State Control) officials.Any default results in punitive action and can even result in barring the ship from sailing. Suchdocumented rules detail preliminary tactics – both preparatory and on actual threat – under varioussecurity levels. In normal conditions, guidelines for security level 1 remain in force. --------------- Internationalship policy documents mandate the marine safety and other broadcasts that must be International ship policy documents mandate the marine safety and other broadcasts that must be made. The very same rules include the Ship Security Alert System; the SSAS is a covert alert mechanism with secretly positioned alarm switches to be activated in case of a piracy or terrorist attack. An unobtrusive satellite linked alert is automatically transmitted. Even mobile oil drilling units have these since July 2006. There are regular safety net broadcasts especially for ships which update on safety and hazard situations. Each ship is obliged to be online 24x7 through special equipment. FYI, this region is NAVAREA VIII and under responsibility of India for navigation and weather warnings. Ships feed such alert systems with information and vice versa. A ship has to have continuous records of drills and exercises, changes in security levels, breach of security, log of equipment tests, declaration of security, periodic review of security plan and conduct regular ship security assessment (SSA) prior commencement of every voyage. All of these processes are designed to prepare for and counter threats in the most efficient and regulated manner. All of these are subject to critical examination and part of her sea going certification.Now, if “off-Kerala” was suspected pirate infested waters, then why‘d the ship risk coasting the shoreline?! Were they not part of a ship reporting system – AMVER, INDSAR, INSPIRES or what have you? Ifyou are running a risk, both company and captain would ensure participation in these optional safetyreporting systems. She was en-route from Singapore to Egypt, which makes me wonder why afterturning off Galle (south off Sri Lanka), she chose to skirt along the Indian coastline – the usual tv channelcapture or mobile phone excuse, I presume? Anyway, this particular moot point can be passed off as amatter of navigational choice / national debate. [Mind you, most countries mandate that even whencoasting off their shores, the ships must periodically report position and intent of their passage.Countries like Ecuador and Peru mandate this be done when passing as far off as 90 miles from theirshores.]But what I would not bother to debate, is the homicide of fishermen, is the wanton firing on anotherboat, is the paucity of procedure and total lack of rule of engagement by the Erica Lexie as is assumed.And isnt this exactly what the damned pirates do?Neither do I appreciate the fact that many certified sailors tend to identify with those others on steelhulls and ignore the real brine that flows through those they look down upon, aboard slightly breachedwooden boats, the fishing fraternity. My best Bo’suns and my best Able Bodied were from the fishingfolk community and they were always far superior at the sailor’s work. The pressures and perils theyface are not perceived by many, in multiples to what many others face and it includes the same pirates.It should definitely not also include the seagoing Merchant Ship!Should there be more than meets the eye, investigation of facts shall bring those to surface. As thefactual stands today, the incident seems a case of inadvertent homicide. ...Capt. Kohli 3 Mar 2012 The writer, Capt. Kohli spent two and a half decades at sea & a ship master for +14 years. He has written guidelines for ship security and implemented them in frequent travels in heavily pirate infested areas.