Remembering Seafarers

The Round Table of international shipping associations – and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in urging all to remember  that over 600 seafarers, of many different nationalities, are currently being held hostage by Somali pirates.

In fear for their safety, and even of their lives, and deprived of contact with their families, these seafarers have also suffered the trauma of having their ships attacked with automatic weapons, prior to being kidnapped for ransom.  Many have been held captive for several months, often in the most appalling conditions, by armed criminals who can be violent and unpredictable.

Merchant seafarers are too often out of sight and out of mind.  It is vital that the international community focuses on the plight of those held in Somalia, as well as the tens of thousands of ships’ crew who, each and everyday throughout the holiday period, will continue to transport the raw materials and finished products that keep our modern world functioning.  About 90% of world trade is transported by sea, including many of those goods, exchanged as Christmas gifts, which have been transported via the high-risk pirate danger area which now extends over much of the Indian Ocean.

There has been an unprecedented degree of co-operation amongst the world’s military navies, whose dedicated personnel are seeking to provide protection to merchant shipping.  But the number of navy ships available is simply insufficient to prevent vulnerable ships from being attacked.  Moreover, 85% of those pirates pursued and captured end up being released, only to reoffend with impunity.  The risk/reward ratio is still far too much in the pirates’ favour.

A few months ago there was an incredible global response to plight of the miners trapped in Chile.  The 500 seafarers, held hostage over Christmas in Somalia, are also isolated and terrified, and deserve similar recognition from the media and the public at large.  Governments might then be persuaded to do more to deter, and ultimately eradicate, the scourge of Somali piracy.

Since January 2008, over 2,600 seafarers have been held hostage by Somali pirates.  Additional information is published by the ICC International Maritime Bureau, which does an excellent job collecting statistics and information about piracy attacks on behalf of the global shipping industry.

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