Thursday, 24 February 2011

“Execute pirates on the spot”- says Norwegian shipping magnate.

The founder of the Norwegian Stolt-Nielsen group, Jacob Stolt Nielsen, is embroiled in a growing controversy after saying that captured Somali pirates should be summarily executed and their boats sunk.

"When (piracy) implies a great risk of being caught and hanged, and the cost of losing ships and weapons becomes too big, it will decrease and eventually disappear," the ex-Chairman of Stolt-Nielsen who is presently on their Board of Directors, wrote in a column for the Norwegian financial newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN). "Pirates captured in international waters have always been punished by death, often executed on the spot," he added. Stolt-Nielsen compared the present situation with that prevailing in Roman times 2000 years ago when General Pompey cleared the Mediterranean of piracy within months.

"Not arrest them and say, 'naughty, naughty, shame on you,' and release them again, but sink their boats with all hands," Stolt-Nielsen wrote in the op-ed column. "The pirates won't be frightened by being placed before a civilian court. "The only way to fight piracy is to hang the pirates," he said. "The only language they understand is force."

As for the likely-and severe- backlash such an action would undoubtedly unleash against seafarers held hostage on mother ships and in Somalia, Stolt-Nielsen commented, "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. This is war and warfare costs lives," he wrote.

Stolt-Nielsen’s column has drawn sharp criticism from across the industry, including in his own country, where the President of the Norwegian Seafarers Union said that this opinion was "barbaric" and that killing pirates could endanger the 700 seafarers presently held hostage in Somalia. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry concurred, saying that basic human rights must apply also to pirates, pointing out that "even for the most gruesome crimes, we do not have the death penalty in Norway."

Barbaric and dangerous to hostages or not, Stolt-Nielsen’s comments reflect the growing frustration amongst ship-owners at the rapidly escalating menace of piracy, which has spread right up to the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz and across the Arabian Sea from the Horn of Africa. There have been 40 official attacks this year; unofficial figures are much higher. Stolt-Nielsen’s views also come at a time when the Norwegian Shipowners Association has criticised the Norwegian government for failing to be tough on piracy; many Norwegian ship-owners, including Stolt-Nielsen, are now putting hired Yemeni guards aboard their ships. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre indirectly acknowledged this when he told reporters that he “understood the ship owner’s frustration.”

Interestingly, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen’s own company has gone into damage control mode after his comments sparked outrage across the European press, one writer going as far as to call him ‘the geriatric hangman.’ In a statement aimed at the Norwegian stock exchange, the company said that the comments in the article reflected "Mr. Jacob Stolt-Nielsen's own personal opinion."

However, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen has stood by his opinion so far, even while admitting that his comments may have been a little harsh. “Perhaps I was a bit tough in the commentary, but I am telling it like it is,” he told DN.



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