Late last week, as millions of Americans prepared began to see Tom Hanks? boffo rendition of ?Captain Phillips,? a real-life victim of Somali piracy now the captain of a U.S. counter-piracy vessel watched nervously as international weather forecasts suggested dangerous swells even as his ship ran low on fuel.

Dudnik Valentyn, master of the MV Seaman Guard OHIO (whose crew is now under arrest), had faced such uncertainty before.

On New Year?s Day, 2011, Somali pirates boarded his vessel, the MV BILDA, and?unlike the experience of Captain Phillips?he and his crew spent 11 months in anguish-causing captivity before being freed upon payment of a $2.6 million ransom of the $8 million was originally demanded.

?Life in captivity at the hands of pirates was hell and hopeless,? Valentyn told the?Somalia Report?after they were released.

Although the subject of international media reporting at the time, less well known is the fact, upon their release, the ?severely traumatized? captain and crew of MV BILDA were inflicted with additional worries. The vessel ?developed mechanical problems and lost contact while underway some 55 nautical miles north of Mombasa and started drifting towards Malinda??this in waters where pirates still lurked.

That tale?as told by others?appears to be critical to understanding the current situation involving the MV OHIO.

The vessel, whose crew included eight Indians, was intercepted and detained by the Indian Coast Guard east of Tuticorin a week ago following an anonymous accusation that the OHIO illegally carried arms and ammunition, as well as had purchased 1,500 litres of diesel ?illegally? with the help of a local shipping agent.

The vessel?s charterer,?AdvanFort International,?the maritime security company, strongly denies both assertions.

With regard to the latter, William Watson, the company president said, AdvanFort was itself ?the victim? of possible local violations under the Essential Commodities Act. He promised that AdvanFort would fully cooperate with Indian authorities in identifying and prosecuting those improperly involved culprits.

Company officials also stress that the MV OHIO is well known to the Indian port authority and its markings are recognized by the authorities, as it has called on the Indian ports many times in the past.

Just as important,?on Wednesday?Indian Deputy National Security Advisor Nehchal Sandhu appeared to take notice of the 12-mile limit for territorial waters under UNCLOS to which his country is a signatory and which forms the legal basis to allegations against theMV ?OHIO.

?You have to understand that our territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles,? Sandhu said. ?Anything that happens beyond that is not within the realm of our control. So, if there is a ship beyond that and doing whatever it is doing, then what can anybody do in terms of law?

?You cannot concoct law,? he added.

Unfortunately for private maritime security companies (PMSCs), as?The Hindu?just pointed out, the incident involving the MV OHIO ?has exposed?a ?nebulous area? in the legality of the rapidly growing practice.?

It is an area that even the most seasoned master?one whose life story itself appears to be a script on man?s struggle for survival against the most imposing odds (the subject of a forthcoming movie, ?All is Lost,? featuring Robert Redford)?needs to navigate in today?s legally nebulous concoctions by port states.

In the meantime, it is essential to remember, in a world increasingly focused on the lessons learned in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, that, as the?Somalia Report?noted upon the earlier liberation of Captain Valentyn and his crew:

“Onboard security teams are now the overwhelming reasons why ships are no longer hijacked and will continue to be the singular reasons for attacks being unsuccessful.”

There is no better argument as the reason the rights of PMSCs need to be both better articulated and more wisely protected as they seek to do their contracted duty to protect maritime commerce.


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