ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, says it has “signalled its revulsion at the increasingly widespread and brutal piracy epidemic” and said it is moving closer to having to advise seafarers to consider avoiding working in all the affected areas – including the Indian Ocean.
The global union federation, which numbers 201 maritime trade unions representing 720,000 seafarers worldwide, took the step after a week-long consultation sparked by the increasing number and range of Somali pirate attacks, and by their now routine use of extreme violence and death threats against the 800 mariners they are currently holding hostage.
It has advised seafarers and their trade unions to begin to prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean.
ITF also called on shipowners to “join us in avoiding going through the area. The risk of passing through the affected area and the knowledge of the inhuman manner in which captured seafarers will be treated amount to a breach of their duty of care to seafarers. It is also reckless, to a point that, should a seafarer be killed by a pirate attack while the vessel transits the high risk area, it would amount to corporate manslaughter”.
The ITF also endorsed the need to neutralise the threat of the captured, hostage-crewed motherships that are allowing pirates to roam the Indian Ocean unmolested, recommended the carrying of military guards on ships, and recognised the use of private armed guards, subject to certain conditions.
There are currently over 800 seafarers being held hostage by Somali pirates, who executed two seafarers last month. They now routinely use death threats, torture and brutality such as keelhauling.
ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel says: “The world has lost control of piracy. Each day it’s becoming more savage and more widespread. All the Arabian Gulf and most of the Indian Ocean are now effectively lawless. Yet there is a way that control can be regained: by actively going after pirates, stopping them and prosecuting them. Not this ludicrous situation of taking away their guns and setting them free to strike again.
“The burden of dealing with pirates is being borne by a few nations and the burden of actually taking them to court by even fewer. We have repeatedly requested stronger intervention by all governments, including the flag of convenience states that are reaping the profits from so much of the world’s shipping fleet without meeting any of the obligations. If we daily allow a few thousand thugs to rack up the danger and violence then we will soon reach a point where there is no alternative but to stop putting people and ships within their reach – with all the effects that could have on world trade and oil and food prices.”
These latest moves by the ITF reflect growing concern or even disgust across the shipping industry that pirates are being allowed to endanger lives, kill and put a stranglehold on vital trade routes almost at will. The ITF, BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping, INTERCARGO, INTERTANKO and InterManager have already warned that ‘ship owners and their crews will be re-evaluating their current determination to ensure that this vital trade route remains open – over 40% of the world’s seaborne oil passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. The shipping industry will be looking at all possible options, including alternative routes, which could have a dramatic effect on transport costs and delivery times – piracy is already estimated to cost the global economy between $7-12 billion per year” (see www.itfglobal.org/press-area/index.cfm/pressdetail/5598/region/1/section/0/order/1).