UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 2010

Jun 30, 2010

Meeting of the States Parties to the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea

Delivered June 18, 2010

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

Mr. President,

I am grateful to you and to the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for your warm welcome and for giving me the opportunity to speak at this year’s meeting.

One of the main reasons for developing maritime law centuries ago, as well as for adopting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, was the necessity to ensure free flow of commerce by sea. Protecting the sea‐lines of commerce is vitally important to all nations, whether they are coastal states or land-locked states, whether they are flag states or port states, because maritime commerce is vital to every nation’s prosperity. Almost everything produced or consumed anywhere in the world depends on shipping. In today’s global economy ships carry more than 90% of global trade.

Because the well being of all of all the world’s citizens relies on shipping, protecting the safe and efficient flow of commerce by sea must be a top priority of all nations. All nations benefit from shipping; therefore all nations must share in the responsibility for maintaining maritime security by countering threats to shipping.

One current threat to shipping has captured public attention and imagination like no other. It has also highlighted the importance of UNCLOS like no other. I am speaking of the threats that piracy off the coast of Somalia is creating for merchant shipping and for nations worldwide.

Pirates have attacked commerce for as long as goods have been transported on ships. In response, early rulers created an extraordinary legal theory unique to piracy. Because piracy was considered a particularly heinous crime, pirates were deemed to be “Hostis Humani Generis,” or enemies of all humanity. Piracy became, as early as in Cicero’s time, a universal crime, meaning that any country, irrespective of their nationality or where the act of piracy occurred, can prosecute pirates. The customary maritime law principle of piracy is today codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in Articles 100 through 107.

The UNCLOS requires all states to co-­‐operate to the fullest extent to repress piracy, and it provides authority for any state to arrest and prosecute pirates. International efforts to increase cooperation to arrest and prosecute pirates must be encouraged and advanced.

We hear allegations of actions such as polluting the seas and illegal fishing that jeopardize coastal states’ security and sovereignty. Such allegations must not be ignored. They are issues that are addressed in the UNCLOS, and the rule of law enshrined in the UNCLOS should be supported by all nations to respond to them. They do not, however, provide any justification for or defense to piracy.

Of course, prosecuting pirates will not alone stop the scourge of piracy. There has been considerable international cooperation directed at piracy off the coast of Somalia. During 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted five resolutions addressing piracy off the coast of Somalia. A Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, comprised of twenty-­‐four nations, several international organizations and maritime industry representatives, was established to facilitate and coordinate efforts implementing Security Council Resolution 1851. More than 25 countries have sent naval units to patrol waters off Somalia to protect shipping from pirates. The International Maritime Organization has updated its guidelines for flag states and ship operators on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy. The maritime industry has developed “Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Off the Coast of Somalia.”

Last year when I spoke to this meeting, I pointed out that almost all international efforts had been devoted to suppressing and preventing pirate attacks, but that virtually no attention had been given to providing for the seafarers who have suffered at the hands of pirates.

Of the five UN Security Council adopted in 2008 on piracy in Somalia, none cited protecting merchant mariners as a rationale for international efforts to suppress piracy. (The preamble of Res. 1816 mentioned the grave dangers that piracy poses to seafarers1.)

The current IMO and Contact Group guidance for shipowners and flag states on responding to pirate attacks do contain some guidance on dealing with seafarers after an attack. But, this guidance is limited to gathering information for military intelligence or prosecutorial purposes, not for seafarers’ well being.

Since I spoke to you last year, there have been some developments that I bring to your attention.

The Seamen’s Church Institute has initiated, in conjunction with the Disaster Psychiatry Outreach at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, a ground-­‐breaking clinical study to assess the effects of piracy on merchant mariners. Our study will go beyond examining how pirate attacks and hostage-­‐taking affect seafarers. It will also look at the stress of simply traveling through high-­‐risk pirate waters. The lessons learned from the study will help us develop advice for merchant mariners, shipowners, flag states, labor supplying states, chaplains, trade unions, first responders, and seafarers’ families on dealing with piracy generated stress, how to cope with being held captive, and how to deal with trauma caused by a pirate attack. A critical element of the study will be our gaining access to seafarers affected by pirates or who have experienced a pirate attack – or have endured the stress of transiting pirate-infested waters. The study is being conducted at the highest ethical and scientific levels, scrupulously protecting seafarers’ individual privacy. I ask your help in gaining access to seafarers for the study.

We have prepared preliminary guidelines for the post-­‐piracy care of seafarers and provided them to the maritime industry and to Working Group 3 of the Contact Group. We are very pleased that Working Group 3 has placed preparing guidance to shipowners on caring for seafarers affected by piracy on its agenda. Several shipowner organizations are now working on guidelines on caring for seafarers.

This is a very positive development. The International Maritime Organization has placed piracy’s effects on seafarers on its work agenda, especially in the Maritime Safety Committee. Our guidelines are being considered in the IMO deliberations. These efforts focusing on addressing seafarers’ issues are to be applauded and encouraged.

Why should we care about seafarers? Most of us will agree that is the right thing to do for humanitarian reasons. We must pay much more attention to addressing seafarers’ needs in respect to piracy not only for humanitarian purposes, but also for security purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, since all nations depend on shipping for their prosperity, all nations share responsibility for maintaining maritime security. Piracy does not pose the biggest threat to maritime security, although it affects it. Many assume that terrorism the greatest threat to maritime security. It is not. The gravest threat to maritime security is the worldwide crisis of recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of skilled and responsible men and women for shipboard careers that is required to sustain maritime commerce.

All of us, governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, commercial interests, and ordinary citizens need to do what we can to make shipboard careers a more attractive career option for skilled and responsible men and women. The first step is to recognize seafarers’ contributions to us and to raise their stature commensurate to their value to our lives and economies.

Unfortunately, perceptions of vulnerability to pirate attacks is just one of the many disincentives for those considering beginning or staying in seagoing careers.

Seafarers are vitally important to the world’s commerce and prosperity. We depend upon them and we owe them the assurance that we will do everything we can to protect them from piracy – before, during, and long after an attack.

The international community of nations and the maritime industry has untaken considerable efforts to prevent, detect, and suppress piracy. This work is very important and must continue.

Governments and the maritime industry must take an active role not only in preventing and suppressing pirate attacks, but also in ensuring that seafarers and the families affected by piracy receive proper care.

Mr. President, before I conclude, I wish to ask one more thing:

As we sit in this meeting of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and after we leave this place, please keep in your thoughts and prayers the 371 seafarers from 17 merchant ships, and their families, who are, at this very moment, being held hostage by pirates in Somalia.

Thank you.


1Although one Security Council Resolution, Res. 1816, did mention crews in a preamble paragraph “Deploring the recent incidents of attacks upon and hijacking of vessels in the territorial waters and on the high seas off the coast of Somalia including attacks upon and hijackings of vessels operated by the World Food Program and numerous commercial vessels and the serious adverse impact of these attacks on the prompt, safe and effective delivery of food aid and other humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia, and the grave dangers they pose to vessels, crews, passengers, and cargo.”