ITF Urges Increased Action to Thwart Piracy

April 2010

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An official from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) told the Maritime Trades Department executive board that piracy is growing, and greater effort is needed to protect the world’s mariners.

ITF Maritime Coordinator Stephen Cotton on Feb. 25 reported on the global effort the federation has been spearheading to ensure safety for seafarers. He offered some sobering statistics reflecting the depth of the piracy problem – one which has been pressing for many years, but which didn’t gain widespread attention until the 2009 attacks on the SIU-crewed
Maersk Alabama and Liberty Sun.

The SIU is one of the ITF’s 751 affiliates. Those unions collectively represent more than 4.6 million transport workers worldwide.

“The last few years have seen massive growth in piracy,” Cotton said.

In 2009 alone, he reported, there were 406 documented incidents – mostly near Somalia, though the danger zone is expanding. Of those cases, 153 vessels were boarded by pirates, and 49 of the ships were hijacked. Some 120 vessels were fired upon – a threefold increase from the prior year. More than 1,000 mariners were taken hostage and eight were killed, though the fatalities “were not necessarily (directly) because of the attacks but because of stress and strain related to hijack,” Cotton said.

As he and others have observed, the long-range solution isn’t simply a military one. Piracy in the region is a political and social problem, particularly given the chaos in Somalia and the crushing poverty there. This is a crisis that must be resolved, he stated, not just because of the humanitarian aspects involved but because of the great economic and strategic importance of the Gulf of Aden. More than 30,000 vessels a year transit the area.

At a minimum, he said, flag states need to increase military action in the region and use innovative concepts like shared convoys and increased training. Cotton reiterated the ITF’s call that steps should be taken to ensure that all countries and companies sending vessels into the region be required to actively fight piracy.

Some are failing to take proactive steps to combat this growing menace, relying on nothing more than additional incentives for civilian mariners so that they continue to crew vessels, he said.

Additionally, Cotton pointed to what happened nearly a decade ago near the Straits of Malacca, where a concerted international effort drastically reduced such incidents. The same thing could happen in the Gulf of Aden, but only if the entire international community gets involved, he declared.

Cotton also thanked North American labor for all it is doing and urged it to keep the issue in the spotlight through petitions and by mobilizing political support.

On a separate subject, he reported that ITF inspectors worldwide had a banner year in 2009 when it came to assisting marines.

“It’s fair to say it’s still difficult times, but last year, the ITF inspectors collected over $20 million in unpaid wages for seafarers on a global basis, which is a massive
increase,” Cotton said.

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Stephen Cotton, ITF Maritime Coordinator

Stephen Cotton, ITF Maritime Coordinator