Money Talks

A pay dispute is brewing as Unions look to reflect the widening spread of pirates.

With campaigns to save seafarers being rolled out, and with the entire shipping industry uniting behind the need to take positive action on piracy, developments on the war-risk zones could be a cause for shipowner concern.

Negotiations to extend the war-risk zone covering piracy, a move that would result in increased payments to crews have been reportedly locked as unions and owners have discussed extending the high-risk zone, which rewards seafarers by doubling wages for working in pirate-infested waters.

It currently covers the Somalian coast and the Gulf of Aden but could now be extended toward the Straits of Hormuz and further out into the Indian Ocean.

An extension could add considerably to the $12bn that piracy is estimated to be costing the industry each year.

Piracy activities have recently stretched out of the Gulf of Aden into the Arabian Sea to avoid naval forces and adapt to new shipping routes.

Shipping’s largest collective-bargaining group, the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), is set to discuss pay rates in the region with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on 17 March. Officers’ union Nautilus International and the RMT union were holding talks with the UK Chamber of Shipping’s Warlike Operations Area Committee as TradeWinds went to press.

The IBF talks are likely to be heavily influenced by the result of Nautilus’s agreement with the UK Chamber that covers its members, mostly made up of UK-flag ships.

Giles Heimann, secretary-general of the International Marine Employers Committee (IMEC), which is a member of the IBF, told TradeWinds: “We are aware that indeed many attacks are now spreading northward up toward the Straits of Hormuz, an area that is not currently covered by the IBF High Risk Area agreement and again we are reviewing this threat.

“It would not be correct for me to release details of our internal discussions at this time, except to confirm that we are looking for a practical and pragmatic outcome that will protect our seafarers from the unacceptable level of violence that is becoming evident in this part of the world.”

Unions are also threatening to pull seafarers out of the region if they are not afforded more protection from navies or shipowners.

Nautilus International general-secretary Mark Dickinson says shipowners have a “duty of care” to seafarers and that they should be allowed to sign off ships sailing into the danger area.

He urged: “The situation is now so bad that the industry has to consider radical responses, including the possibility of refusing to sail into these areas and to take alternative, less risky routes. In the absence of effective protection, shipowners and seafarers will be forced to seriously consider whether it is safe to proceed into these high-risk areas without a substantive increase in the military support being deployed.”

The ITF head of the seafarers section, David Heindel, adds that a boycott of piracy areas is “now possible”. He urges seafarers and affiliated unions to “prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and wider Indian Ocean”.  The affect of any decision taken on the war-risk zones could precipitate the ITF action.

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