In the early 2000s, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise hit our screens, flooding our collective conscious with images of swashbuckling pirates sailing the high seas in search of adventure. As the world fawned over this reimagining of these seafaring heroes, reality came knocking in the worst way. The international community shuddered as reports of ruthless Somali pirates operating along our shores flooded the news, with kidnapping for ransom and murder punctuating horror stories from survivors.
We in the logistics industry shuddered with the world: in one fell swoop, shipping goods along the East African coast became an unparalleled nightmare, calling for an urgent review of shipping security.
While sea-faring shipping vessels are often exposed to threats unique to aquatic travel, there are risks in common with dry land transport. Road and rail travel have also proven to be vulnerable to theft, planned by external forces or employees themselves.
Transport vessels must also deal with extreme weather conditions that threaten to maroon captain, crew and cargo or sending them far off of the intended course. Air travel is especially vulnerable to the caprice of Mother Nature, with urgent cargo flight being grounded due to weather or freak disasters such as the volcanic ash clouds currently terrorizing Indonesia’s North Sumatra.
Technical hitches are also a concern for air, sea and land transport. Equipment malfunctions expose delivery companies to losses caused by delays and customer dissatisfaction. Stranded vehicles and ships are also easier targets for thieving bandits, and are often underequipped to handle security before rescue. Most frightening is the potential for loss of personnel life: in worst case scenarios, vessels that malfunction can result in fatal crashes.
Logistics firms must also contend with issues arising from human conflict. In Africa, the issue of political tensions is especially valid: routes that have been considered safe for shipping use can become danger zones in the blink of an eye in the event of political or tribal upheaval.
An unfortunate example would be where the horror of the 2007-08 post election violence in Kenya disrupted operations at the Port of Mombasa; paralyzing shipping relied on by traders in the larger Eastern African region.
While threats to the logistics industry paint a grim picture fraught with danger, human resilience presses on. Technological advances are being made to ensure security of transport vehicles: from ships designed to repel invaders attempting to board, to armoured cars capable of withstanding enemy artillery.
International cooperation has also been a key factor in ensuring the safety of cargo in transit. Efforts such as the Combined Task Force 150, featuring a host of countries dedicated to curbing piracy along the Gulf of Aden, have made huge strides towards returning sanity off the Somalian Coast.
Even though normalcy is beginning to resume in shipping routes, the logistics arena will always face threats of varying degree; from the antithesis of Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew, to random acts of God and everything in between. Thankfully, by the force of human innovation and teamwork, it perseveres: the industry saves itself.