ARX Maritime Chief Executive, Josh Hutchinson, has warned shipping companies that defence cuts will impact post-Brexit trade plans, as vessels are left unprotected against pirate attacks.
In response to rumours of government cuts in defence spending, the head of the maritime risk prevention company advised clients to prepare for higher costs when travelling through Africa. He said Navy cuts could mean they have to redirect their vessels on longer and more expensive routes.
“One of the worst areas for pirate attacks at the moment is the Bab-el-Mandeb straight. We get reports of pirate activity there every week. Insurgent attacks are common, but the presence of the navy there is vital in controlling the area. The military involvement acts as a deterrent so cuts in the number of navy ships will put other vessels at more risk than they already are.”
The navy currently operates 19 frigates and destroyers- 31 vessels less than the number in 1990. Plans are underway to build eight new Type 26 frigates and potentially five smaller Type 31e frigates. However, what looks to be an increase in navy numbers is not the case. The total number of vessels will remain the same as once these ships are built, the older Type 23 frigates will be retired.
He continued: “The navy presence in some high risk areas has brought levels of piracy down to the lowest they’ve been in decades. Taking away those vessels will inevitably bring an insurgence of pirate activity again.”
UK Chamber of Shipping Chief Executive Guy Patten voiced his concerns about a rise in piracy on Sunday. Speaking about trade agreements post-Brexit, current plans are unachievable with the impact that increased piracy will have on shipping:
“Put simply, without significant investment in the Royal Navy, the Government’s post-Brexit ambitions will not be realised.
“The Royal Navy safeguards billions of pounds – UK-based shipping contributes £10billion a year to GDP.
“We are looking to establish our country as an even more outward-looking, internationalist trading nation.
“In this, shipping, which moves 95 per cent of our international trade, must play a vital role; it can underpin our post-Brexit success. Without a powerful Royal Navy, the effect on the British economy could be overwhelming.”
He went on to say:
“One of the key areas of threat is the “Bab-el-Mandeb, which potentially controls any traffic coming in and out of the Suez canal. Hutu rebels are now targeting Arab coalition vessels and anyone supporting them. It’s very possible that they will escalate matters by shutting down that channel altogether.”
In response to this, Mr Hutchinson has released advice to customers about the risk of increased costs if the Royal Navy numbers are cut. He said:
“I believe any shortage of military vessels in the Bab-el-Mandeb gives any sea or land based threat the opportunity to shut down the 12 mile pass.
If this happens the potential cost of vessels trying to transit this area will significantly increase, and companies would be forced to reroute. On top of that they may face the threat of piracy from the West of Africa as well. If the shipping world wants to avoid that, then more people need to call on the government to stop these cuts and protect our trade agreements”
During his time in power, David Cameron made the fight against the multi-billion dollar piracy problem a foreign policy priority.
Under current cuts the UK is only able to deploy two frigates for contingency operations east of the Suez Canal. Neither of those are committed to piracy full time. This void in the region’s security leaves the area open to terrorists and pirates as they face little resistance from the ship’s crew.
Before 2012 the Royal Navy played a leading role in global efforts to curb piracy, with British frigates forming the core of various international task forces that patrolled high risk areas. But as budget cuts deepen, the British fleet have constantly lessoned their presence in anti piracy operations.