Shipping companies already smarting from the global downturn are forced to pony up extra cash for steeper premiums to cover multimillion-dollar ransoms or take the long way around the African continent in the hope of dodging hijackers.
“The pirates were the only people who had a good year in 2008,” said Crispian Cuss, a security consultant with the Dubai-based Olive Group.
The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, is one of the busiest and most dangerous waterways in the world.
As pirates become more aggressive, the cost of insuring ships climbs.
Some companies are spending more time training their crews, others are avoiding the area altogether – taking long trips around Africa’s southern tip that can potentially add millions to the cost of each journey.
An area of particular concern
While the coast of Somalia has been a problem for years, it was flagged in May as an area of particular concern by Lloyd’s Market Association, and premiums have been rising – at least tenfold, according to some media reports.
Neil Smith, the senior manager for underwriting for Lloyd’s Market Association, has said the exact figures are commercially sensitive in a highly competitive industry.
Large ships generally carry three separate types of insurance. Marine – or hull – insurance covers physical risks, such as grounding or damage from heavy seas.
A second type of policy, protection and indemnity covers crew issues, while war risk insurance covers acts of war, insurgency, and terrorism.
Although war risk policies typically cover hijackings and piracy, insurers often charge extra for ships that venture into high risk areas such as the Gulf of Aden. Others, including Chicago-based Aon Corp and London’s International Security Solutions Limited, have recently launched new plans specifically tailored to cover losses incurred by piracy – for example by including ransoms and cargo delays under the same policy.
The other option available to ship operators, taking the long way around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope instead of the short cut through the Suez Canal, is also expensive.
Routing a tanker from Saudi Arabia to the United States through the Cape of Good Hope, for example, would add 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers) to the voyage and boost annual fuel costs by about $3.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration. In addition, it said using that route would mean the ship could make only five round trips a year instead of six, cutting delivery capacity by 26 per cent.
European economies stand to absorb most of any extra expense. The Maritime Administration says more than 80 per cent of trade moving through the gulf is with Europe.
While some shipping companies, such as the world’s largest, Maersk, have decided to take their oil tankers around the Cape of Good Hope, others have been reluctant to shoulder the extra expense, according to Graeme-Gibbon Brooks, the managing director of Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service, based in the English port city of Southampton.