UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 2012

Jun 11, 2012


11 JUNE 2012

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

Thank you, Madam President, for giving me the opportunity to join the other speakers in commemorating the 30th anniversary of the opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Global economy and prosperity depend upon merchant shipping. But, the seas are a dangerous, unruly, and unpredictable environment. The Convention creates order out of chaos and encourages the rule of law on the seas.

The most fundamental achievement of the Convention is its providing order and predictability for people in the maritime world. In particular, the Convention has the tools for protecting seafarers upon whose labors the world’s prosperity depend.

One of the threats that seafarers endure is piracy. Today, there are 213 seafarers and 7 merchant vessels being held hostage by pirates. More than 4,800 seafarers have been held hostage by pirates since 2006.

In the past year, thanks to the cooperative efforts of States Parties and other States in accordance with UNCLOS Article 100, as well the maritime industry implementing Best Management Practices, the number of ships captured by pirates has been greatly reduced.

Progress has also been achieved in addressing the needs of seafarers affected by piracy. The Seamens' Church Institute is conducting, along with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, a clinical study on the effects of piracy on seafarers’ mental health. The study findings will be presented orally at the International Congress of Psychology in Cape Town, South Africa in July. The Institute is sharing its experience with maritime stakeholders including the Save Our Seafarers campaign and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program, two maritime industry coalitions that seek to address the needs of seafarers affected by piracy. We have also posted on our website interviews with seafarers who have been held hostage by pirates so that the wider public can see how piracy affects real people.

Although progress has been achieved by industry caring for seafarers affected by piracy, more can be done by States Parties in this area under Article 94.

I am aware of several cases where seafarers, long after being released from captivity by pirates, have not been paid their earned wages or compensated for their personal property that was stolen by pirates.

A more pressing and difficult challenge is overcoming the stigma of mental health care that deters seafarers from taking advantage of effective therapy. Some seafarers experience symptoms that commonly follow traumatic events. Extremely effective therapies are available to treat such symptoms. However, programs designed to provide mental health therapy for seafarers offer little benefit if appropriate medical care is not available near seafarers’ homes or if seafarers do not take advantage of them because they fear losing their jobs or careers.

International prosperity depends upon merchant shipping and caring for seafarers who have been affected by piracy must be a priority for all governments—especially by Flag States using UNCLOS Article 94—to make sure that seafarers are provided appropriate medical care and are compensated for their losses caused by pirates.

Thank you.