Encouraging Trends Against Somali Piracy

Jul 30, 2012

by Benjamin S. Clark, Intern, Center for Seafarers’ Rights

On Wednesday, July 25, I attended a plenary session of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGCPS) at the United Nations with Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) Center for Seafarers’ Rights. The CGPCS is an international forum in which nations and concerned organizations gather to discuss and coordinate anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia. After first meeting in January 2009, the CGPCS held its 12th plenary session under the chairmanship of Spain.

At the CGPCS session, the international community impressed me with their efforts to make the East African coast safer for seafarers. Thanks to multifarious initiatives, including encouragement and assistance to East African nations who prosecute pirates, better guidelines and standards that protect merchant vessels and endeavors to provide assistance to kidnapped seafarers and their families, the target region shows significant declines in pirate attacks, which have fallen to pre-2008 levels in the Gulf of Aden. Furthermore, the number of captured seafarers has fallen by approximately 50 percent.

Although all participants in the Contact Group recognize the harmful effect that Somali piracy has on international commerce, they also recognize and respond to calls for caring for seafarers and their families affected by piracy. The CGPCS now stresses the welfare of seafarers and their families above all other considerations. Although the 2012 numbers show a decrease in the number of piracy incidents when compared with 2011 (with “only” 185 innocent seafarers currently held captive), the international community recognizes CGPCS’s success as a reversible trend. The safety and wellbeing of seafarers remains a priority.

The CGCPS recognized SCI’s leadership in pressing the international community to provide better assistance to seafarers who have suffered or are suffering from Somali piracy, particularly from a mental health perspective. The plenary session recognized that the industry and flag states should do more for seafarers and their families. I expect that the forthcoming SCI-sponsored clinical study results conducted by Dr. Michael Garfinkle, SCI’s Clinical Researcher, will provide useful data that will inform the CGPCS’s future efforts to aid survivors of pirate attacks.

Visiting the UN with Doug was another day in my exciting Tulane University Law School Summer Internship with SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights. From visiting ships and meeting seafarers at Port Newark to researching Filipino labor law to investigating domestic Coast Guard regulations, the caseload changes every day. When not working on cases, I help Doug draft a guide for port welfare workers about seafarers’ rights under the Maritime Labour Convention, likely to come into force next year. I also coordinate with SCI’s medical student intern, Anees Benferhat, who works with Dr. Garfinkle analyzing data in the clinical piracy study. Although people around SCI know me as the “legal intern,” my experience at CSR clearly demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of practicing maritime law.

I look forward to the continued positive progress to combat Somali piracy spearheaded by CGPCS, SCI and all participating nations and organizations. Seafarers already face many challenges—loneliness, isolation, unscrupulous labor practices and many other difficulties—and should not suffer the threat of piracy as well.