Piracy at sea should be eliminated
Interview of CAPT BJORN HOJGAARD, Hong Kong-based CEO of world’s leading shipping company and a major employer of Indian merchant navy officers, Anglo-Eastern Univan Group.
What steps are essential to fight the menace of armed robbery and piracy at sea through global cooperation? Pls explain in-depth.
If armed robbery and piracy at sea only involved ill-gotten gains that would be one thing, but more often than not innocent seafarers are caught in the thick of things, their lives and safety put at undue risk. Often held up or taken at gunpoint for ransom, violence is not uncommon and on the rise in increasingly sophisticated attacks aimed at merchant vessels. This is particularly true in the Gulf of Guinea, which last year accounted for more than 95% of the world’s pirate attacks and kidnappings.
The situation is wholly unacceptable and needs to stop. Seafarers keep the global supply chains moving, and in doing so, they work in one of the most challenging, dangerous, and remote environments and professions. Not surprisingly, shipping ranks amongst the highest for mental health issues, and with the additional strain and hardship caused by Covid-19 and crew relief difficulties, it does not get any easier.
Yet unlike nearly any other profession in the world, seafarers must also live in fear of violence and kidnapping as a workplace safety issue. How can the most vital profession to the global economy and world trade be dealt the cruellest and most unjust hand? How much more can seafarers shoulder? Of greater urgency, how can armed robbery and piracy at sea be eliminated?
Regional cooperation amongst states is key. The regional anti-piracy and armed robbery agreement served to reduce incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, to which IMO provided (and continues to provide) assistance throughout the development and implementation process. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is a good model of a cohesive and successful regional cooperation structure, and this should be developed fast in all areas where this risk is imminent.
In recent years, particular focus has been placed on piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Western Indian Ocean, and increasingly the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. While progress has been made recently in some regions to eradicate piracy, armed robbery and other illicit maritime activities, ships are urged to remain vigilant when navigating through these regions, since the threat of piracy is not ‘eliminated’.
The noteworthy efforts of the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, and Combined Task Force 151 are major reasons why piracy in the Gulf of Aden has nearly disappeared in the past five years.
In terms of approach, it should be two-pronged:
Provide heightened patrolling by UN/NATO forces as is in place in the Gulf of Aden region. The number of incidents has reduced due to the strategic planned patrol system in the area, with many attacks thwarted in time. All member states must contribute, as this is for the benefit of all. If any country cannot physically participate, then they should contribute monetarily so that private security can be deployed in lieu or to help sponsor participating nations.
We need to deep dive into the reason for piracy. Take Somalia. After the collapse of the Somali government and the dispersal of its navy, international fishing vessels began to conduct illegal fishing in Somali territorial waters. This depleted local fish stocks, and Somali fishing communities responded by forming armed groups to deter the invaders. It was more an act of survival because they were denied their rightful source. Similar are the stories in other areas where the deep economic imbalance and lack of alternate sources of income have forced people into such extremism and terrorism. The global community must collaborate and work for the economic development of such regions and also look into ways of rehabilitating the people who have found such activities as an easy source of income. Stronger local governments with political stability and support from the UN would help to reinstate faith.
Seafarers are sometimes held as ‘legal hostages’ by the governments/judiciary in-case of a serious maritime accident (Recent example: ‘Ever Given’ crew had to suffer a lot because of the infamous Suez Canal blockage incident). Should global maritime bodies of immense repute take corrective measures immediately to avoid unnecessary harassments of seafarers by the foreign govts. / Judiciary in the future? Pls elaborate.
Seafarers are pivotal to the global economy and world trade, yet they are often given the short end of the stick. Already subjected to challenging working conditions that carry both safety and legal liability risks, seafarers are conveniently overlooked by governments in a global pandemic, targeted by pirates for ransom, and run the risk of being detained for long periods in the event of an overseas accident, even held as leverage in disputes.
Ships are what seafarers call work and home for months at a time as they sail from port to port around the world. But once out of a seafarer’s home waters, ships essentially become a mobile state unto itself. Should the vessel befall a major accident whilst in another jurisdiction to a seafarer’s home country and the seafarer does not have the necessary visa or documentation, he/she may not be legally permitted to leave the ship. In investigations, court cases, insurance claims, and instances of abandonment, they may be compelled to remain on board and the ship barred from leaving, sometimes for months to years.
In such scenarios, ships can become floating prisons overnight – a sort of maritime purgatory for the hapless seafarer, even if innocent and merely ‘guilty’ by association. MV Ever Given, along with its cargo and confined crew, was seized and detained by Egyptian authorities for two months while compensation was disputed. At the time, some speculated the crew could be stuck for years, as has happened in cases of abandonment by shipowners.
Where there are no legal grounds to hold seafarers ‘hostage’, this is clearly morally wrong and an injustice that needs global attention. Seafarers are not pawns in legal disputes, nor are they barter for compensation. Liens are imposed on cargo, not people. Seafarers are humans with human rights, and these rights need to be upheld by governments who should be held accountable to a higher global authority.
In those cases where detention is necessary and expected, such as in the event of an investigation or court case, detention periods should be fair and reasonable. There have been many instances where seafarers have been detained abroad, away from their families and homes, for up to a year or more. This is no more right, and global maritime authorities should look to ways to address the issue. Seafarers don’t need to have the long end of the stick, but somewhere in the middle would be good for a change.
Source: By Hemang Palan, Aajkaal News, (https://www.aajkaaldaily.com/english/piracy-at-sea-should-be-eliminated)