Sitting Ducks?

Position::Piracy, Brazil - Brief Article - Statistical Data Included

Piracy is still a big problem at Brazil's ports. Santos is fighting it with efficiency-and bullets.

IT WAS A BLACK AND STEAMY SOUTH American summer night in January 1998 at the Port of Santos, and Percival de Araujo Costa moved by instinct. He drew on his training at Quantico, Camp Le Jeune and the jungle warfare school to block out the crack of gunfire, whine of bullets and screams of fear.

The port's top cop and his six port patrol officers faced a gang of four. The firepower favored the enemy-pistols against Uzis. One of the officers ran out of ammo. Another didn't hesitate-he raced through the darkness and dodged bullets, crates and other port flotsam to get close enough to let go a fresh round. "If you think, you don't go," Araujo says.

By the time the shooting was over, a pirate was dead and two crew members of the British-flagged Isomeria oil tanker were wounded. That's been the last of the pirate attacks at the port of Santos-the busiest in Latin America, "These kinds of organized attacks are finished here," says Araujo, the port captain and the man responsible for securing Santos' piers.

Although his optimism might be premature, the international shipping community is taking notice. Ove C. Tvedt, the deputy secretary general of the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the world's largest private shipping organization, says the major Brazilian port has started to make strides.

It would certainly seem so. The UK-based International Maritime Bureau, a unit of the International Chamber of Commerce that deals with maritime crime, reported a half-dozen attacks for Santos and Rio de Janeiro in 1997. While Rio's average has climbed since then, Santos reported only one attack-the one on the Isomeria.

Brazil ranked fifth worldwide last year with nine attacks (see table, above). However, the actual number of pirate attacks for any port is probably twice or three times what the reports say because many shipping lines order their captains not to report any attacks.

"We get some pirates that come aboard a ship in Rio. If no one's been hurt. we don't report anything," says the top regional executive of one of the leading shipping lines serving Brazil, who doesn't want to be identified--it's not considered good business to be a pirate patsy "We can't afford to get tied up while they [officials] do their investigation."

Pirates' unknown treasures. Araujo scoffs at such comments. "What's 24 hours to do an investigation?" he asks. "We...

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