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February 2010

Searchlight Feature - 16th February 2010

The Continuing Piracy Issue - Part 3

There is a two day conference due to be held in Hamburg on the 27th & 28th April. This is being organized by MARSEQ (Global Events) and appears to have a wide and varied programme of meetings and presentations. Nevertheless, the first paragraph on page 1 of their events schedule quotes: “last year we heard a panel of seafarers that had first hand experience of a hijacking situation. It was a totally unique and eye opening session.” We find this a very surprising statement and it would seem to indicate our industrial leaders are somewhat out of touch with reality! We have had serious hijackings of merchant ships for many years now so does this statement suggest that seamen who have been unfortunate to have experienced hijackings have never been approached to get their opinions of the incidents and remedies?

As we said in our last Newsletter, until we change the tactics and make the occupation of piracy ‘high risk’ for the pirates it is going to continue and most likely increase. Let’s stop ‘gnashing our teeth’ and ‘talking the topic to death’ and let’s have some effective concrete action if we are to substantially reduce, if not eliminate, this problem. The world governments have the capabilities to solve the problem but all appear to lack the resolve. For as long as this continues to be the case piracy will continue and get worse. People serve on merchant vessels in order to follow a rewarding career and improve the lot of their families back home. They do not go to sea for fun and risk being held to ransom, shot at and perhaps killed without any capability of retaliation or protection against these illegal actions. Over and above the frequent threat of piracy there are some countries which have criminalized seafarers for environmental issues wherein any one causing an oil pollution incident is presumed guilty until proven innocent. The industry is desperately short of skilled people and the age profile of crews is now very high and continues to increase. To correct matters the industry needs to attract well educated young people. Faced with threats of piracy, criminalisation and reduced crews (read longer working hours) how can the industry attract the right people in sufficient numbers? We need to get our house in order! Ninety-five percent of the worlds trade is carried by ships, it is the most efficient form of transport yet devised (cost per tonne mile is by far the cheapest).It would seem that we all just take it for granted and think little or nothing about the people employed at sea making this all possible.

We, the industry need to greatly increase the pressure on governments to address the piracy problem. They are the only people who really have the capability but they are inept without some strong pressure being brought to bear. It appears that the Chinese government are now becoming involved; maybe they will have a different approach than the governments already involved in the antipiracy initiatives in the Indian Ocean and other places. Consultation with those seamen who have already suffered at the hands of some of these criminals is, at the very least, a must.

We are not necessarily advocating armed action but do not deny that such action may be necessary. It is probably going to take a ‘carrot and stick’ solution to solve the problem. Look at what can be done to improve the ‘law and order’ situation inside Somalia – which has effectively been a failed state for over ten years, as well as dealing effectively with the immediate problem of hijackings. As we have seen the governments are likely to do nothing unless greater pressure is put onto them to solve this dreadful problem, which must be solved and solved sooner rather than later.