Union Presidents Urge Additional Efforts In Anti-Piracy Campaign

March 2010

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The presidents of six maritime unions last month urged the Obama administration to build upon earlier efforts to combat piracy.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the union leaders thanked the administration for its anti-piracy actions but pointed out that mariners remain at risk.

Signing the letter were the following union presidents: Michael Sacco, Seafarers International Union; Tom Bethel, American Maritime Officers; Don Keefe, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; Tim Brown, Maters, Mates & Pilots; Gunnar Lundeberg, Sailors’ Union of the Pacific; and Anthony Poplawski, Marine Firemen’s Union.

In part, the letter reads as follows: “On behalf of the American merchant mariners our organizations represent we respectfully ask that you work with us to develop and implement the programs and policies necessary to protect U.S.-flag vessels and their United States citizen crews from acts of piracy.

"Despite efforts over the past 10 months, American mariners face an ongoing threat…. Our organizations continue to work with American shipowners and government agencies to ensure mariners have the training they need to help repel pirate attacks.

"However, these non-lethal measures alone are not enough as piracy becomes more sophisticated and deadly. American crews need and deserve to have their government standing shoulder to shoulder with them to combat this ongoing threat.

“We agree that international patrols in high-risk waters, international conferences and meetings – including those of the United Nations’ CGPCS (Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia) – and international aid efforts can all help bring attention to the problem and may ultimately lead to long-term solutions. However, until there is an effective international response in place the United States Government should act forcefully to protect U.S.-flag vessels and their American citizen crews. ...It is extremely important that our government be prepared to respond, as it did so effectively during the situation involving the Maersk Alabama, with speed and force each time a U.S.-flag ship is attacked and the vessel and its American crew are taken hostage.

“We further believe that our government should not consider after-the-fact legal actions against U.S.-flag shipowners who, as a last resort, pay a ransom to secure the safe release of their American citizen crews as the best solution to the problem of piracy. It would be unconscionable for the United States government to turn its back on or to dictate that American shipowners turn their backs on the American merchant mariners who willingly sailed into harm’s way in service to their country.

"We are proud that throughout our history American merchant mariners have served with distinction as our nation’s fourth arm of defense. America’s merchant mariners never have and never will shirk their responsibility to deliver the goods whenever and wherever needed.

"For this reason, we do not subscribe to an international call for mariners to boycott the waters most at risk to attack by pirates. Rather, we believe that just as land-based criminals know they will face strong and swift retribution when they attack innocent victims, we believe seaborne pirates should know they will be treated no differently.

“A plan to repel and fight piracy must be as forceful and as unrelenting as piracy itself. We suggested immediately following the attacks against the Maersk Alabama and Liberty Sun last year that the most effective step that can be taken in response to aggressive action against U.S.-flag ships and their American crews is for our government to provide U.S.-flag vessels with the on-board armed force protection necessary to repel acts of piracy.

"We remain convinced that this approach still represents the most effective course of action that can be taken. Nonetheless, we appreciate and strongly support the recent decision by the Department of Defense to assist U.S.-flag vessel operators in contracting with private security forces for U.S.-flag vessels carrying military cargo in high-risk waters.

"We ask that all agencies of the Federal government immediately follow the Defense Department’s lead so that all U.S.-flag vessels transporting military as well as non-military government cargoes receive the same type of support.”

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