A highly audible protest from the shipping industry against piracy – with a 30-second blast from ships’ sirens every day at noon, in every port in the world – has been recommended to draw public attention to the criminals who are now menacing world trade, and who are holding nearly 800 seafarers captive.
Delivering the keynote address at this week’s Singapore conference of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP), BIMCO President Robert Lorenz-Meyer suggested that such a protest was necessary to remind governments of the urgency of measures to deal with the piracy problem. Attacks on merchant vessels by Somali pirates, said the BIMCO President are “about to cut the sealanes in and out of the Persian Gulf and attacking a service “on which the world depends for economic stability and growth”.
Mr Lorenz-Meyer praised the work of the multi-national naval force protecting merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, in particular noting the “brilliant examples” set by some of the Asian warships in successfully confronting the pirates’ use of captured vessels as “motherships”. He contrasted the work done by some of the states involved in the action against pirates and their robust work to free ships and captive seafarers with the “silk gloves” worn by others in dealing with the menace.
BIMCO, which had been involved with the problems of modern piracy since it emerged as a problem in the 1990s, has maintained that unless there are serious consequences for the criminals, they will continue to attack merchant shipping. The President pointed out that not all states have ratified UNCLOS or the SUA conventions, while some states which have ratified these international documents do not yet have national legislation in place enabling their enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute pirates. He welcomed the harsh sentences of 20 or 30 years being meted out in the courts of Kenya and the Seychelles for those convicted.
Governments of the world, said Mr Lorenz-Meyer “must get their act together” on piracy and establish a comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem. Such action “must aim to reverse the malicious will of the pirates, rather than pretend to reduce their capability”. It must, he said, fundamentally change the the risk/reward ratio currently in favour of the pirates and offer them alternative livelihoods. Such matters, he emphasised, were the clear responsibility of governments, and the “explicit and strong commitment of governments” is essential if there is to be any lasting solution to the problem.
In the BIMCO President’s address, he underlined the urgency of the situation, with the criminals effectively now menacing global trade and traumatising a large number of innocent seafarers, with trade unions now calling for a boycott of the affected areas. “We are dangerously close to a turning point for the freedom of navigation on vital trade routes” , he said.
He reminded his audience that “engagement, dialogue and multinational co-operation” had solved the piracy problem in the Malacca and Singapore Straits, and while the Somali situation was not exactly the same, this cannot, he said, be used as an excuse for a continuation of the current inadequate approach. The shipping industry needed to bring its concern about the piracy menace to a wider public, much of which was yet to be appraised about its seriousness. A loud noise of protest, as masters sounded their sirens in port each day could symbolise this growing impatience.
The action will support the SOS Save Our Seafarers campaign launched by BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Shipping Federation (ISF), Intercargo, INTERTANKO and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The SOS campaign aims at encouraging millions of people around the world to heap pressure on their national Governments to crack down on piracy by visiting www.saveourseafarers.com and signing an on-line petition.
At the Singapore meeting, PREVENT PIRACY – a poster designed as a joint project by the ReCAAP ISC and BIMCO was launched by Mr Yoshida Endo, Executive Director of the regional body and Mr Torben Skaanild, Secretary-General of BIMCO. The poster is recommended for use aboard ships to serve as a check-list for seafarers whose ships may be transiting pirate-infested waters, reminding them to “be prepared”.