Maritime Security Forum, Stamford, CT

May 14, 2007

Maritime Security Forum Piracy

Stamford, CT
Delivered May 14, 2007

Piracy and Mariners

Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.
Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
The Seamen’s Church Institute

In the early 1990’s we began receiving increasing numbers of reports from port chaplains from seafarers who suffered pirate attacks.

I recall listening to a shaken seafarer in our seafarers center in Port Newark describe his encounter with pirates off the coast of Brazil. He was demoralized and distraught. He had been forced at gunpoint to hand over his money, his watch, and worst of all, his wedding ring. He wanted to know if he would be compensated for his loss. A quick phone call confirmed that the owners would pay him for the value of his lost property, but nothing could possibly compensate him for the theft of his wedding ring and for the trauma he suffered. He told us that because of his experience, he would never sail again.

Piracy seemed a surprisingly new problem to us at the Seamen’s Church Institute, to be, and in many ways it was recent. But, the more we learned about the piracy, the more we discovered that it was merchant shipping’s dark secret.

In response, in 1995 we, along with the Maritime Law Association of the United States, organized a round-table discussion on modern-day piracy. We brought together a broad group of interests including shipowners, governmental authorities, seafarers, trade unions, security experts, legal scholars and representatives from countries where piracy was prevalent to exchange views on the then growing world-wide piracy phenomenon. At the end of the round-table we concluded that:

  • A growing piracy problem in many parts of the world threatened seafarers and the maritime industry; and
  • Existing legal definitions of piracy required updating to reflect modern piracy practices; and
  • The full extent of the piracy problem was unknown because piracy incidents were under-reported.

Fortunately a lot has happened since then. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur has made huge strides towards meeting its objectives to reduce piracy and in increasing general awareness of the problem. It now receives much better reporting than it did in the early 1990’s and it provides ship owners and governments valuable information regarding piracy hotspots, details of specific attacks and their consequences, and statistical data on piracy.

In 1998, the International Maritime Organization began a long-term anti-piracy project that included a number of regional seminars and workshops, evaluation and assessment missions, data collection and reports, and guidance circulars. The IMO has issued two informative circulars, one which recommends possible counter-measures for Rescue- Coordination Centers and security forces (MSC/Circ.622) , while the other provides comprehensive guidance to ship operators on how to prevent attacks, and measures to minimize danger to the crew when they occur. (MSC/Circ.623).

Since the early 1990’s these and other initiatives have greatly raised awareness of piracy, increased reporting, and encouraged governmental anti-piracy measures. The initiatives have produced results: the IMB Piracy Reporting Center reports that then number of reported piracy attacks have declined each year for the past three years.

But, piracy still exists. It remains a big problem in several parts of the world. For example, we recently receive a couple of first-hand reports of piracy attacks from Africa:

On 23 February of this year, heavily armed pirates carrying automatic weapons and rocket powered grenade launchers stopped the M/V Rozen off the coast of Somalia. The pirates ordered the crew of 6 Sri Lankans and 6 Kenyans to kneel down and say their final prayers. Fortunately, they were not shot and were held hostage for a ransom. Three days later three other speed boats approached and began firing on the M/V Rozen. The Rozen’s master begged the attackers to stop shooting because they were already being held hostage. His pleas were ignored. They later learned that the three speed boats belonged to the Puntland, Somalia Coast Guard.

In another incident off Somalia, pirates hijacked the M/V Torgelow while it was on its way to deliver supplies to her sister-ship the M/V Semlow. The M/V Semlow had been released by pirates after being held hostage for 101 days. The Torgelow crew was held hostage for 51 days. The Torgelow crew said that the pirates had not physically harmed them, but they were robbed of their cash and personal belongings such as cell-phones, wrist watches and jewelry.

The crews reported that the Somalia pirates were worse than the pirates they had read about in their history books. They said that Somali pirates are well-armed and want ransom money more than ship’s cargo. Fishing vessel crew are also frequent targets of Somali pirates.

These are just a few instances that describe some of piracy’s effects on seafarers. They teach us about the issues victims face after an attack, such as to compensation for stolen property, rights to medical care, fears about continuing sea-going careers, and the psychological and emotional trauma that they suffer.

The maritime industry, international organizations and governments have made much progress in developing piracy reporting systems and guidance on how to minimize the risk of an attack, and what to do during and after. However the post-piracy attack guidance is generally limited to reporting.

I think that there is a great need to expand the piracy related resources to focus on piracy’s effects on seafarers. I propose that the maritime industry establish an office for victims of piracy attacks. The functions of the office could include the following:

  • Conduct a comprehensive study of the effects of piracy on seafarer victims, such as their experience with claims for financial losses, the physical and psychological consequences of the attacks, and the medical treatment and counseling provided to them;
  • Update research and statistics on piracy victims;
  • Promote fundamental rights of victims of piracy;
  • Develop guidelines for shipowners on caring for seafarer victims of pirate attacks;
  • Provide resources for shipowners and seafarers on specialized counseling and medical care; and
  • Provide resources for seafarers on assistance available to them following a piracy attack such as, claims, medical care, counseling and networking.

Such a piracy victims’ resource office would not only ease the burdens on seafarer victims of piracy attacks, but it would also help with recruiting and retaining good seafarers and encourage governments and industry to take actions to reduce the scourge of piracy.