Piracy-specific best management practices update – a shift of emphasis

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A revised Best Management Practice guide (BMP5) was jointly released by BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Group of P&I Clubs, INTERTANKO and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum on 28 June 2018. BMP5 provides a range of guidance into effective measures for the protection of crew, vessels and cargo transiting the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea; high-risk areas where there has been a high prevalence of piracy in recent years.

The evolving threat

BMP5 takes a different approach to that of its predecessor, BMP4 (introduced in August 2011). The focus of BMP5 is to mitigate ‘against the risk of piracy and other maritime security threats’, while BMP4 focussed on adapting to the threat of piracy by aiming to ‘avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks’.

The publication is intended to aid vessels against the threats posed by piracy as well as acknowledging that regional instability has contributed to new security threats. With this in mind, it also considers the use of anti-ship missiles, sea mines and water-borne improvised explosive devices.

BMP5 defines a ‘threat’ using 3 factors: capability, intent, and opportunity. If one of the three is removed, the risk of the threat is minimised. The measures focus on minimising the opportunity presented to the pirates, as it is plainly difficult to mitigate against capability or the intent.


A risk assessment is viewed as an integral part of voyage planning and should incorporate the identification of measures for prevention, mitigation and recovery. The risk assessment may also include requirements of the Flag State, cooperation with military and the embarkation of privately contracted armed security personnel. BMP5 also encourages shipping operators to register their transits with MSCHOA and UKMTO and follow the self-protection advice.

Ship Protection Measures are aimed at minimising the instances of a successful pirate attack. This involves the use of defences to protect vessels, in particular the bridge. BMP5 advises, for example, that vessels adopt barbed wire and water spray/foam monitors to help to prevent illegal boarding. As secondary defences, the control of access to accommodation and machinery spaces is an important step to delay or potentially deter access into the vessel. The importance of having watch keepers to identify a suspicious approach or attack early on is stressed, allowing defences to be deployed and for preparation prior to an attack. Alarms are suggested as a useful means to warn crew members of an imminent attack and to warn the attacker that the vessel is aware of their presence and is responding.


The geographical extent of BMP5 has expanded and is more generic than before. It incorporates additional piracy threats and players in the region, so that it focuses on mitigating all incidents of piracy, such as Yemen, Aden Straights and the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the publication includes guidance on the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which in 2017 experienced an increase in the number of kidnappings with 96 seafarers being taken hostage that year compared to the 44 the previous year. This marks a significant contrast to BMP4, which had the aim of ‘Protection against Somalian-based Piracy’.

BMP5 acknowledges that the threats of piracy are dynamic and attacks can occur throughout the region and that the threats and challenges presented can vary within and between regions.


At the time of writing there have 463 incidents of piracy off the Somalian coast since 2008. Following the introduction of BMP4, the number of incidents declined rapidly and there was a period of relative calm although in recent years there has been concerning rise in the number of attacks.

The cost of Somali piracy to global shipping businesses has also declined significantly from US$6.6 billion in 2011 to US$1.4 billion in 2017. However, whilst BMP4 has achieved success in its ability to reduce the cost of Somalian piracy to global shipping businesses, the threat is escalating once more. Some believe, in the light of the decline in incidents following BMP4 (amongst other reasons), that the fault lies with vessels becoming complacent and now failing to adhere to the advice of BMP4. BMP5 will act as an important reminder of the continuing obligation on those sailing through high risk areas to ensure that vessels are properly prepared for piracy risks.

Minimising the risk of piracy in this area is essential given the importance of the Gulf of Aden for international trade. Thousands of vessels cross every year heading to and from the Suez Canal in Egypt. The expectation is that using BMP5 will act to safeguard vessels, the cargo on board and, more importantly, the crew and that, in time, it will be a vital factor in ensuring those incident numbers decline once more.

Related item: Piracy update – Nigeria warning

Read other items in the Marine Brief - September 2018