The world’s independent tanker owners, INTERTANKO and its Members and Associate Members, are pleased that Paul and Rachel Chandler have been freed from captivity after more than a year of being held by Somali pirates, and amidst a wave of delighted media euphoria.
Regrettably there are more than 530 seafarers currently held by Somali pirate gangs and more than 800 have been captured this year alone and forcibly detained for periods of up to 180 days. Since the first pirate hijacking in the Gulf of Aden/Arabian, more than 2,500 seafarers have been taken and forced at gunpoint into captivity.
Hundreds of seafarers are risking their freedom every day to allow ships to keep moving through this busy international marine corridor linking West with East, thereby ensuring that oil, chemicals and gas, food, raw materials and finished products all reach their destinations unhindered.
But think for a moment of how these seafarers feel as they prepare for a transit of the Gulf of Aden, studying Best Management Practice specific to their situation, erecting defenses such as razor wire and water cannon, practicing protective procedures and maneuvers.
Think for a moment of how these seafarers feel after six months or more in captivity under armed guard, and of the worry devastating their families and friends. These men are held captive on the vessels, not in lodgings ashore. Deprived of freedom of movement, they are imprisoned by armed guards whose behaviour may be erratic and unpredictable, sometimes being forced to experience mock executions as part of the ransom negotiation process.
Now think for a moment how every one of us would be affected if our seafarers said enough is enough and cargoes were delayed as they were re-routed round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope – over 90% of global trade goes by sea.
Ultimately the safety and welfare of our seafarers comes first. Governments from all over the world are working alongside the shipping industry to safeguard crews, ships and cargoes that transit this area. International naval forces are cooperating here to discourage and prevent pirate attacks and we thank those countries involved for their commitment to facilitating free trade when others are actively trying to prevent it.
However we urge governments to strive to bring about the prosecution of all those committing acts of piracy on the high seas – it is reported that over 70% of those pirates captured are released without being prosecuted – so that they might be punished instead of re-equipping and going straight back out to attack more merchant ships and endanger more seafarers. We also urge them to find an effective way of pursuing pirates on land, where they store their new-found and illegally-gained wealth, as well as at sea.
Our seafarers are putting their safety on the line for the benefit of every single one of us all over the world. Yet their role in global trade is barely acknowledged outside the shipping industry. They are working for you. They need your support.