Amidst rampaging attacks on vessels and consequential effects on its members, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has thrown down the gauntlet to those flag states and shipowners who have not taken action to fight Somali piracy to act now, before the threat makes it virtually impossible for seafarers to pass through the ever-widening danger area. The federation insisted that “pirate-infested seas are not fit for seafarers”.
The declaration comes just as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) acknowledged that there is an upsurge in piracy attacks and that at present, 10 ships with a total of 236 seafarers are being held hostage in the hands of pirates in various parts of the Somali coastline.
According to the global body recent upsurge in pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and now beyond the Horn of Africa and in the wider expanses of the western Indian Ocean has turned this phenomenon into a global issue. “Pirates have become bolder, better armed and better equipped, and their attacks have grown dramatically in number and ferocity, culminating in hijacking ships and holding their crews hostage”.
Insisting that its members would boycott areas of danger, the ITF declared that “save in exceptional circumstances, ships should not transit the (affected) area. The risk of attack is now so great that putting seafarers in harm’s way amounts to a breach of the shipowners’ duty of care.”
It went on to describe a motion adopted by its Fair Practices Committee as a statement of intent that flag states and shipowners have to assess the risks and act definitively to combat them, or risk finding themselves outside the law.
“There are countries actively fighting piracy and there are owners training and supporting their crews to resist it,” explained ITF Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton.
“Then there are others who are shirking responsibility and as good as accepting its steadily growing menace, which has now brought us to the point where one of the world’s great trading routes is now almost too dangerous to pass through. Today’s statement reflects the frustration of all those who work at sea at the dire situation we’ve reached. One where pirates act virtually unmolested and, even if intercepted, with virtual impunity from arrest.”
He said it calls into question the very legality of continuing to send ships through much of the Indian Ocean. “It is therefore imperative that not only must protective escorts be used but that flag states immediately decide on the protective measures that they must recommend for the ships that are flying their flag and that those ships’ operators comply with them.
“We, and many others, also want to see the end of what’s virtually an open secret in shipping – that many of the world’s largest ship registers have provided not one vessel to patrol an ocean that can only be made safe by an increase in the number of warships needed to aggressively patrol and police it. I am not aware of a single flag of convenience country that is acting in this way to protect the ships that are supposedly their responsibility.”