Piracy Study Gives Extensive Details
About Dangers Faced by Mariners

 

August 2012

 

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The human cost of piracy remained high in 2011, with more than 4,000 mariners from around the world being subjected to armed attacks at the hands of Somali pirates.

 

A new report released by the Oceans Beyond Piracy group goes into exhaustive detail about the plight seafarers face when traversing the Gulf of Aden, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and other high-traffic and economically significant waterways. The study, called The Human Cost of Somali Piracy, was released June 6 at Chatham House in London.

 

The report found that a staggering number of mariners suffered from a wide variety of attacks over the course of 2011. For example, in addition to more than 4,000 mariners who were attacked by armed pirates, 342 survived by waiting out the attacks in citadels. More than 1,000 mariners were taken hostage by the pirates. Of those taken hostage, nearly 60 percent reported being abused, used as a human shield, or both. Ultimately, 35 innocent mariners lost their lives in 2011 alone at the hands of Somali pirates. 

 

For those captured, 2011 also marked a significant change in the tactics used by the pirates. Although there were notable exceptions, piracy has only recently become more violent.

 

"In late 2010 and the first part of 2011, troubling accounts from hostages released after months in captivity forced maritime stakeholders to reassess their perception of piracy,” the report said. “Specifically, hostages recounted incidents of physical and psychological abuse by their pirate captors, which eroded the perception of Somali pirates as humane captors.” 

 

The pirates have also changed the way they collect ransom for the crews and cargo. Before, pirates would simply stay aboard a captured ship until the ransom was paid. Today, the pirates have separated crews from their ships and from each other. 

 

“To further complicate shipowners’ ability to negotiate for the release of their crew, hostages are not always kept aboard their vessels,” said the study. “In some cases, they are moved to other boats. In one known case, only the crew was taken while the ship was left behind (the MV Leopard). In the case of the MV Vega 5, two Spanish crew members, the only Western seafarers aboard the vessel, were held separately. As a result, they were not freed when the vessel was rescued by the Indian Navy, and the Spanish government later paid a reported $7 million for their release.”

 

While governments – spurred by maritime labor – have stepped up and confronted pirates, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of seafarers worldwide, there still are numerous challenges to ending piracy. Creating a legal deterrent for piracy is a major source of contention for mariners suffering from attacks, according to the report. While there has been some progress with different nations making piracy a crime, there is no international and very little national enforcement of anti-pirate laws.

 

Further, the international community has contributed a modest amount of resources to fighting piracy, the report states, and has limited coordination with various navies with presences in the region. 

 

One of the study’s overarching themes was the increase in pirate attacks and the fact that these confrontations often go unreported and generally are misunderstood by the public. The lack of public outcry over the threat of attack has many implications that hamper the safety of merchant mariners. Without recognition and vocal support, the report argues, governments are less inclined to take serious steps to address piracy. In addition, the families of captured seafarers may be left with little support by local communities when their relatives go missing. 

 

Many maritime industry groups, including unions like the SIU and coalitions such as the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), have made eradicating piracy a top priority. This solidarity from the industry has resulted in positive strides by governments from all around the world. However, as the report indicates, there is still much to be done in the fight against piracy. 

 

The full report can be found at www.oceansbeyondpiracy.org.

 

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