Monday, 7 March 2011

“Seafarers and Unions should begin to prepare to boycott piracy areas,” says ITF

Mariner deaths in high risk areas are ‘corporate manslaughter’
Concerned with the recent escalation in piracy related brutality and violence, the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) says that it is “moving closer to having to advise seafarers to consider avoiding working in all the affected areas – including the Indian Ocean”. The ITF represents 201 maritime trade unions and 720,000 mariners across the globe. In a press release, the ITF said that its opinion was crystallised after week long consultations “sparked by the increasing number and range of Somali pirate attacks, and by their now routine use of extreme violence and death threats against the 800 mariners they are currently holding hostage”.

The Federation reiterates the need for all stakeholders- Flag States, ship owners, the UN, IMO and other jurisdictional authorities included- to take immediate and appropriate action to stop the menace; ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel says that the world has lost control over piracy. “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 Federation’s move come after other industry bodies including ICS and BIMCO said that shipowners will be now re-evaluating their determination to sail in the affected areas; they will also be examining alternate routes that could severely impact global trade; more than 40% of the world’s seaborne oil passes through the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Analysts say that with reports of savage beatings, keelhauling and torture- and the cold blooded execution of at least two crewmembers in recent times- the stakes are now much higher. The killing of four US citizens of the yacht ‘Quest’, they say, has focused global attention on the problem in a way that mariner deaths do not.

In a statement, the ITF Seafarers’ Section says that the “grave increase in the level of violence by Somali pirates directed against ships and seafarers has reached a tipping point.” Drawing attention to the murder of two seafarers, drowning of another member, increasing brutality and systemic torture of hostage crews, the ITF indicates that the expansion in the scale and geographical area of the attacks and the increased periods that mariners are now held hostage, has forced them to “advise seafarers and their trade unions to begin to prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean”. The widespread use of mother ships has increased the risk, the ITF says, saying that shipowners-when sending their ships knowingly to run the gauntlet of RPGs, gunfire and inhumane treatment of hostage crews- are breaching their duty of care to seafarers. “It is also reckless, to a point that, should a seafarer be killed by a pirate attack while the vessel transits the high risk area, it would amount to corporate manslaughter”.


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