International Groups Launch New Anti-Piracy Campaign

April 2011

Back to Issue

In response to the rising number and increasing barbarity of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, international maritime groups have joined together to call on governments to do more to protect mariners.


Shipowners and seafarers are reaching out to citizens throughout the world to push their respective governments to act now and show the political will to resolve the growing Somali piracy crisis before it strangles world trade and before more innocent mariners are harmed.


The SOS or “Save Our Seafarers” campaign, launched in early March by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF, to which the SIU is affiliated), the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Shipping Federation (ISF), Intercargo and INTERTANKO, is aimed at encouraging millions of people around the world to heap pressure on their national governments to crack down on piracy. Two components of the campaign are high-profile advertisements that have been published in major newspapers and magazines around the world, and the web site, through which visitors may quickly contact their elected political representatives.


The ongoing problem of piracy again hit close to home for the SIU on March 8 when the Seafarers crewed Maersk Alabama – famous for its April 2009 saga when pirates tried to take over the ship – was approached by another group of would-be attackers while the vessel was en route to Kenya. In the most recent episode, the pirates turned away after warning shots were fired by an embarked security team, among other defensive steps.


SIU members at union halls across the country have stepped up to support the new campaign, logging on to the SOS web site and using it to write to President Obama and ask for increased anti-piracy measures by the United States. The SIU also continues to speak out on behalf of all mariners – SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who serves as chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, is playing an important role in the new campaign, as is SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, who represented the union at a mid-March hearing on piracy conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives as well as at an anti-piracy session hosted by the U.N in New York.


“The world has lost control of piracy,” Heindel stated. “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,” he continued. “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 [continue with] 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.”


Indeed, the ITF in late February said it is moving closer to having to advise seafarers to consider avoiding working in all the affected areas – including the Indian Ocean.


Meanwhile, the SOS campaign has six specific aims:


  • Reducing the effectiveness of the easily-identifiable pirate mother ships.

  • Authorizing naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment.

  • Fully criminalizing all acts of piracy and intent to commit piracy under national laws in accordance with their mandatory duty to cooperate to suppress piracy under international conventions.

  • Increasing naval assets available to fight piracy.

  • Providing greater protection and support for seafarers.

  • Tracing and criminalizing the organizers and financiers behind the criminal networks.

“Pirates are getting stronger, more violent and richer every day as a result of inertia by governments,” said ITF General Secretary David Cockroft. “On behalf of all the major shipping organizations, we’re calling for help from governments to tackle this human and economic terror being inflicted upon innocent seafarers. We hope that by working together and encouraging support from the global community we can ease the current crisis of Somali piracy.”


“Politicians don’t realize the severity of this crisis,” added Intercargo Chairman Nicky Pappadakis. “Escalation affects our seafarers first and foremost, but the potential effect on world trade and regional stability will affect us all. Governments can no longer afford to simply to deter and disrupt the pirates.”


In jointly announcing the SOS campaign, the ITF and the other aforementioned organizations pointed out, “Merchant ships are being attacked daily, running a gauntlet of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks from armed gangs of Somali pirates. Over 800 seafarers are currently held hostage on their hijacked ships. Subjected to physical and psychological abuse for months at a time, they are held ransom for millions of dollars. Yet even when caught red-handed by naval forces, 80 percent of pirates are released to attack again. Why? Because the world’s politicians don’t realize the severity of this critical situation. The governments give the orders. The governments hold the key to resolving this crisis. But they seem unwilling to face reality and act. Their brief to the naval forces is simply to deter and disrupt, unless it involves a national interest.


“Enough is enough.”

Share |

Save Our Seafarers Campaign

Seafarers line up to give their support to the Save Our Seafarers campaign at the Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Md.