by the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director
As part of the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) advocacy work to serve seafarers impacted by piracy, in early September I attended an international conference in Dubai sponsored by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With hundreds of private- and public-sector officials in attendance—including government, military, forensic, UN, IMO and humanitarian leaders—the conference focused on regional capacity building to eliminate the land-based root causes of piracy.
Because of SCI’s reputation of caring for seafarers, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion featuring Captain Jawaid Khan, the Master of the ill-fated MV Albedo, some of whose crew remain in captivity since its takeover in November 2010. Captain Jawaid, his wife and two daughters shared riveting stories from 20 months of captivity. The captain told how pirates murdered a young crewman; intentionally exposed to the sun or dunked in the sea members of the crew; kept crew in deplorable sanitary conditions; fired their guns at him in anger; and deliberately separated him from his crew. Since the ship’s owner had no insurance to support a ransom payment, Captain Jawaid’s family was forced to raise funds privately for his release. Mrs. Jawaid often negotiated personally with pirates via phone. When partial ransom money finally materialized, the pirates freed Captain Jawaid and six Pakistani seafarers but kept other crew in captivity where they remain a year later. Captain Jawaid reports that his other six Pakistani crewmen have returned to sea since their release.
The day after the discussion with Captain Jawaid, I served as panelist on the topic, “Improvements and Lessons Learned for Shipping Companies, Port Operators, and Mariners.” With co-panelists—including leaders from the International Maritime Bureau, International Transport Workers’ Federation and Vice Chairman of DP World—we applauded the effective industry response that has materially reduced the incidence of piracy off East Africa while noting that 64 seafarers remain in captivity, 49 of whom since 2010. I addressed SCI’s work to promote medical and psychological aftercare for seafarers to strengthen their resilience and eventual return to sea.
A major conference theme focused on successful best management practices employed by leading shipowners that contrast sharply with risk exposure in the bottom quartile of substandard carriers. From a humanitarian perspective, the most tragic cases involve seafarers whose shipowner fails to maintain insurance that otherwise would contribute to ransom payments and release from captivity. Often working on “rust-bucket” ships in poor conditions, these seafarer hostages languish with little hope of release. Matters recently became so precarious for Captain Jawaid’s former ship, for example, that in July it sank at anchorage in Somalia, leaving some hostages still in captivity on land but four feared lost.
The conference shared strong consensus regarding the need for regional capacity building on land in Somalia as the sustainable solution to piracy at sea. The President of Somalia spoke passionately about this need, a theme echoed by other officials in their public statements. While military officials applauded successful deterrence at sea, they, too, pointed to shore-based economic solutions to reduce crimes at sea. Nearly $350 million for new land-based support was pledged during the conference.
For official conference briefing papers and multimedia resources—including my interview with the Jawaid family—visit http://counterpiracy.ae.