Monday, November 23, 2009

Union Condemns Shipping Companies Policy On Pirates

Lack of Cohesion in Approach to Abduction at Sea
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – Everyone who ships freight through or near to the Gulf of Aden, whether container ship, bulk carrier, tanker or just private yacht, knows the ever escalating risk which comes from the lawless gangs of marine mercenaries who roam the waters on the lookout for prey. Different nations and even different companies take differing views as to the way the threat is dealt with and indeed how the unfortunate consequences of a successful attack should be handled.

Now the Seafarers Section of the International Transport Workers Federation has expressed their views on the subject very clearly. In a statement issued today they are scathing with regard to ship owners who do not take adequate action to protect their crews. The union is taking the line that no shipping should enter the ever widening danger zone unless exceptional circumstances prevail.

The union defines the exceptions as either travelling with a close protection escort from a suitably armed naval vessel either alone or in convoy, or, the vessel is in a low risk category and has “adequate” protection measures in place. They are not clear as to what represents “adequate” but are emphatically against the arming of merchantmen for self protection.

The ITF statement goes on to say that a shipping company that sends a vessel into the danger zone unprotected is in fact committing a willful neglect of the duty of care by the employer and questions the legality of doing so. The statement also points out that the uneven approach of different companies and nations needs to be addressed.

ITF Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton said,

“We, and many others, also want to see the end of what’s virtually an open secret in shipping – that many of the world’s largest ship registers have provided not one vessel to patrol an ocean that can only be made safe by an increase in the number of warships needed to aggressively patrol and police it. I am not aware of a single flag of convenience country that is acting in this way to protect the ships that are supposedly their responsibility.”

Escorts are available to vessels transiting the area from organizations like EUNAVFOR, but certainly insufficient to provide suitable protection to the 80% of “high risk” ships in the area. As was proved by the capture of the private English yacht Lynn Rival recently, the proximity of a Naval vessel is not in itself sufficient to prevent a kidnap. Despite over 100 crew watching helplessly from a matter of feet away, lack of training and equipment for hostage rescue situations aboard an unsuitable ship meant the Chandlers from Kent were simply abducted without hope of escape, in peril of their lives.

“Low risk” vessels, as defined by the ITF are those which can travel fast, have excessive freeboard and possess sufficient crew trained in avoiding capture. The union recognises the frustration of ship owners and understands the extra expense is an unwelcome burden, but point out however that the welfare of their staff should be the prime responsibility of employers and that all companies and states need to ensure they are cogniscent of their legal and moral responsibilities.