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Gray Page: On piracy and cybercrime

Last week’s hijacking of the Aris 13 tanker, the first incident involving Somali pirates since 2012, might not be a one-off, warns a leading security consultant in today’s Maritime CEO interview.
James Wilkes is the experienced troubleshooter who heads up consultancy Gray Page, a man well versed in many of the security issues facing shipping today, whether it is in the form of piracy, corruption or cybercrime.

“The indicators that something might occur have been there for a long time, so it didn’t come as a complete shock. Only time will tell if the Aris 13 is a one-off,” Wilkes says of last week’s hijacking that made headlines around the world.

Illegal fishing in and around the waters of Somalia and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland has often been cited for piracy’s rise there in the first place, and, according to Wilkes, it remains a problem.

“The issue of foreign vessels fishing Somalian coastal waters is again causing massive frustration in coastal communities where fishing is their livelihood,” Wilkes reports.

Puntland authorities have requested the assistance of NATO to keep Somalian coastal waters free of foreign fishing vessels, with the warning that if the fishing issue isn’t resolved then they will go back to sea to hijack ships.

“Somalia is a tinder box country,” Wilkes stresses.

Looking elsewhere at the piracy issue around the world, hotspots for Wilkes include the Sulu Sea region to the south of the Philippines and the waters off Nigeria, where seafarers are being targeted for hostage taking.

Gray Page has recently debuted its DFENCE anti-piracy barrier something Wilkes maintains is quick and easy to fit, unfit and refit. Unlike razor wire it does not pose a hazard to the safety of the crew when handling. Further, the product has been designed to be as convenient to store and stow as possible, when not in use.

Wilkes has been at the CMA event this week in the US where – as with so many other shipping shows this year – much debate has centred on shipping’s digital transformation and by extension the risks of cybercrime. For this security expert, however, much of what he has been listening to at this talk shops has been misplaced.

“Most of the discussion I’ve been hearing about cyber and cyber threats,” he recounts, “has actually been about IT hygiene: the steps that should be taken to prevent viruses and malware being downloaded or introduced through negligence, omission and oversight – in other words user error.”

Wilkes goes on to explain: “Cybercrime is a growing problem globally, but third-party external criminal actors targeting ships with specific criminal or terrorist intent is a substantially different animal to the subject of IT good / bad practice.”

On the topic, he finishes by warning: “The danger of appropriating and applying more ‘extreme’ terminology for common day-to-day issues is that in the end you turn people off. They stop listening. And that’s counter productive.”

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