UN Contact Group Reveals Development

Aug 15, 2011

by Samuel Fuller, Legal Intern, Center for Seafarer’s Rights

Last month, I accompanied Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers' Rights, to a meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia. This international contingent of nations and industry groups meets twice each year to present investigative findings and map the progression of the global effort to combat piracy in the waters off Somalia.

Four working groups presented on a range of issues that included the state of military activity in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean; expanding a joint effort between INTERPOL and shipowners to collect forensic evidence from hijacked ships; and forming a judicial body to hear all piracy cases within the region. No matter the issue being discussed, all presenters emphasized the safety of the seafarer.

A short time ago, mention of seafarers during a meeting of the Contact Group would have come from SCI’s microphone alone. SCI has largely pioneered the effort to ensure seafarers receive swift rescue and adequate treatment following incidents of piracy. However, this meeting heard the plight of seafarers affected by piracy from nearly every interest in the room. While recent incidents of more violent pirate acts have brought seafarers’ well-being to the fore, the discussion no longer ends with a description of torture or a family’s loss, but with a proposed solution. The group is now considering providing appropriate care for seafarers and their families who have been affected by piracy, and several countries and industry organizations currently use SCI's Guidelines on caring for seafarers.

The maritime industry seems fully committed to implementing best management practices to prevent hijacking or, in the event of capture, hasten rescue of hostage vessels. These practices include equipping ships with armored citadels to house seafarers during an attack; choosing alternate routes where the risk is too high; and investing in the necessary education and training to ensure seafarers are equipped to handle situations at the highest level. Nations are throwing their support behind databases that track the location of vessels so that Navies can respond the instant a threat is identified, and devoting substantial resources to extend military vessels’ sea-time and effectiveness with refueling tankers and air support.

While few can imagine the plight of seafarers aboard the ships currently held hostage by pirates, discussions among those with the greatest power to help now focus on erasing it from our oceans.