by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
Since its creation in 2009 in response to a United Nations Security Council Resolution, CGPCS has brought together governments, the maritime industry and non-governmental organizations to coordinate efforts to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia. The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) has participated in CGPCS meetings from the beginning, highlighting the urgent need to address the effects of piracy on seafarers. CGPCS has placed seafarers’ welfare on the top of its agenda and helped stop Somali pirates from capturing merchant vessels. (Somali pirates have not captured a ship since May 2012.)
Because Somali piracy now seems to be under control, much of the attention at the CGPCS meeting in Dubai focused on the future. Yet, Somali pirates still hold thirty seafarers hostage, and many seafarers continue to suffer from the effects of piracy. Some meeting participants recommended that CGPCS disband and move its activities to the International Maritime Organization. Others, including SCI, pointed to a continuing need for CGPCS and offered suggestions to adjust meeting frequency and to use Web conferencing tools.
The creation of the Piracy Survivors Family Fund to assist seafarers and their families crowned the achievements of the CGPCS meeting. Supporters pledged more than $100,000 to the fund, which the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme will administer.
At the invitation of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dubai World, I participated in the UAE Counter-Piracy Conference held at the end of October. More than 600 high-level delegates from over 50 governments, maritime industry organizations and non-governmental organizations attended the event devoted to coordinating efforts to combat piracy at sea and the conditions on land that enable piracy to endure. Conference participants steered discussions toward collaborating on constructive solutions to the instability in Somalia.
I moderated a panel discussion of experts who analyzed initiatives and contributions by the maritime industry and other private businesses geared toward capacity building and creating jobs in Somalia. Despite the massive challenges, some hopeful projects are underway. The panelists also highlighted the need to provide appropriate assistance to seafarers affected by piracy and called for releasing all current hostages.
The conference concluded on a high note with the announcement that captors had released seven Indian seafarers from the MV Asphalt Venture after holding them hostage for more than four years.