From the TUC

Answer to increasing piracy lies ashore

21 Jun 2010, by in International, Public services

Workplace violence is, rightly, a big issue for trade unionists. And at Nautilus International, the union for maritime professionals, we are having to deal with one of the most extreme forms of workplace violence – piracy.

It seems incredible that in the 21st century our members are exposed on a daily basis to a crime that most people think was consigned to the history books in the 17th century. But the sad reality is that last year saw a total of 410 officially recorded attacks on merchant ships in piracy incidents and more than 1,100 incidents of violent attacks against their crews – including the use of guns, knives and even rocket-propelled grenades.

Over the past decade, our research shows that 195 seafarers have been killed, 509 injured and an amazing 4,171 held hostage in pirate attacks. And that’s just based on the official statistics: some research suggests as many as one in four incidents are never reported.

For seafarers, piracy is also more than simple workplace violence. Many seafarers may spend months at a time on their ships, so attacks are also an attack on their home as well – and it is often their own personal property that is stolen during raids.

Thankfully, the world has at last begun to wake up to the risks. Faced with the descent into not just daily, but almost hourly attacks in one of the world’s busiest and most sensitive and strategic shipping lanes – the Gulf of Aden – we have witnessed since 2008 an unprecedented multinational Armada of naval warships in the area.

This has certainly led to a substantial reduction in the number of successful attacks on merchant ships in the area. But you have to set that against the increasing activity and audacity of the pirates – who now seem to think nothing of going well over 1,000 nautical miles out to sea in their attempts to evade the naval patrols.

And naval commanders will tell you that the task force is not a long-term solution to the problem. The answer lies ashore, in creating stable government and a functional society.

But all the time, the problem just keeps on growing. Because we must not forget that Somalia is not the only battleground. Many of our members have experienced the often brutal nature of piracy in Nigeria – indeed, one was held hostage there for almost half a year. Piracy is also flourishing in many other western African waters, and it has never entirely gone away from Indonesia, the straits of Malacca and Singapore, India, Bangladesh, and many Latin American ports. Not forgetting the case of the Maltese-flagged cargoship Arctic Sea, which was mysteriously hijacked in the Baltic last year.

Against this background, the International Transport Workers’ Federation has helped to launch a global campaign to persuade all governments to commit the resources necessary to end the problem of piracy. We hope to deliver half a million signatures by World Maritime Day, 23 September 2010, arguing the case to all governments that they can ensure the seafarers are better protected by:

  • dedicating significant resources and work to find real solutions to the growing piracy problem
  • taking immediate steps to secure the release and safe return of kidnapped seafarers to their families
  • working within the international community to secure a stable and peaceful future for Somalia and its people
ACT NOW: Please visit www.endpiracypetition.org, sign the petition, get your family and friends to sign it and spread the word.
GUEST POST: Mark Dickinson is General Secretary of seafarers’ union Nautilus International. A former seafarer, he joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet with Bank Line in 1978. After serving at sea for nine years, he went on to work for the International Transport Workers’ Federation for 12 years, rising to the position of assistant general secretary. Mark has worked at Nautilus International (formerly NUMAST and Nautilus UK) since 2000 and was elected to the post of general secretary in May 2009.

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