Within the past six months, more and more stories about pirate attacks are mentioning the crew of the attacked vessel gathering in the strong room or Citadel of the vessel. In fact, just last week, a tanker crew retreated to the Citadel as pirates boarded. The pirates, in an attempt to gain access to the Citadel, fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the room only to have the RPG bounce back, injuring three of the pirates. Wouldn’t you have loved to see the pirates faces when that happened?
A Citadel is a designated pre-planned area specifically built into the ship where – in the event of imminent boarding by pirates – all crew can seek refuge with the objective of preventing the pirates from gaining control of the vessel. The Citadel should have control capability of the vessel, emergency rations, safe air supply, CCTV control and good external communications.
Is a Citadel a safe solution? Well, several incidents have proven that it can thwart pirates’ efforts to take over a ship. In several cases now, the crew made it safely to the Citadel, sat tight, and the pirates were apprehended by naval forces or just gave up.
Citadels can also improve the effectiveness of naval forces. If the crew is safely ensconced in the Citadel, it can then allow naval forces, who in the past have been hesitant to intervene on a vessel once the pirates are on board for fear of harming the crew, to engage the pirates knowing the crew is safe.
There are risks. Pirates have proven they adapt and it won’t be long before we’ll be hearing of incidents where more effective explosives than rebounding RPGs are being used to gain access to these safe rooms. One can only imagine how the pirates will respond to the crew after gaining access, not to mention potential casualties from the explosives. But many Citadels are being built in areas within the vessel that can withstand explosives (double bulkhead protection) and are being equipped with safeguards to protect the crews from attempted forced entry.
There is also a risk of vandalism as pirates become frustrated if they cannot gain access but repairing vandalism damage is certainly preferable to a crew of hostages and ransom fees.
So is this the solution…no. Until we see “stability” and “Somalia” in the same headline, pirates will continue to threaten vessels in the region. Vessels should continue to follow the guidelines established in the BMP3 and keep up-to-date with latest reports on pirate activity.
Citadels won’t stop the pirates from attempting to board. But what they can do, when the situation warrants, is help address many of the issues impacting the industry once pirates have boarded: giving the crew a chance to remain safe; preventing the pirates from gaining control of the vessel; and offering naval forces time to reach the vessel and engage the hijackers. Not to mention it’s more cost-effective than armed security or escorts.
– By Greg Girard