Running out of Patience
When you are provoked beyond all measure and there seems no immediate prospect of respite, you are entitled to protest as loudly as you are able. So if the man and woman in the street are in earshot of the docks and they hear the deafening roar of foghorns, sirens and whistles every day at the precise stroke of noon, they may well ask somebody why they can hear this cacophony. Thus they may learn of one of the 21st century’s real outrages in the continuing menace of Somali piracy that makes seafarers’ lives a misery and for the 700 plus who have been captured by the criminals, a good deal worse. And when they learn of this disgraceful threat to shipping, maybe they will be as angry as shipping people and add their voices to those raised in anger.
The idea of the massed blast of protest from ships in port came last week from BIMCO President Robert Lorenz-Meyer, as he gave the keynote address at an important security conference in Singapore. It could catch on, because there is no doubt that the seafaring and shipping industry world is fast running out of patience at this seemingly unending cycle of violence directed at peaceful people doing one of the world’s most essential jobs.
In his address to the ReCAAP meeting, the President paid tribute to the various naval forces engaged in assisting merchant vessels on their lawful business, making particular mention of a number of Asian navies which have been particularly successful at tackling the developing problem of “motherships”. But he also expressed surprise (this being shared by many seafarers and shipping people) that so many states treat pirates with kid gloves. And how very important it is that people who attack ships face real consequences, which hopefully include arrest, prosecution and severe punishment.
People in the industry, whether they are afloat or ashore, shake their heads in bewilderment when they hear about pirates being gently set ashore in their native land after they have been captured, when various states consider that they do not have sufficient evidence to prosecute them. The President’s call for a clear and unambiguous lesson to be given to these criminals, and for the governments of the world to “get their act together”, is timely.
The President left his audience in no doubt as to the urgency of the situation. The current situation is that piracy is about to cut the sea lanes in and out of the Gulf, upon which some 40% of the world’s energy travels. Seafarers’ trade unions are considering calling for a boycott of these dangerous seas. Do we have to wait for fuel to run short, prices soar and empty shelves to be seen in western retail outlets before the true enormity of this criminality sinks in?
An anti-piracy poster, which is a joint project of BIMCO and ReCAAP, was “launched” at the meeting. Hopefully posted up on all ships, it will serve as a reminder to seafarers of best practice and what they need to consider when heading off into these risky waters. But as the President said, the current approach to piracy is clearly inadequate, and a comprehensive strategy along with the explicit and strong commitment of governments is “the bottom line”. Seafarers, and their shipping industry, need nothing less. And if the sirens sound from the port at noon, hopefully the public will join this very justifiable protest too.
Articles written by the Watchkeeper and other outside contributors do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of BIMCO.
U.S. Navy photograph by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky