The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has challenged those flag states and shipowners who have not yet taken action to fight Somali piracy to act now, before the threat makes it virtually impossible for seafarers to pass through the ever-widening danger area.
According to the ITF, “save in exceptional circumstances, ships should not transit the (affected) area. The risk of attack is now so great that putting seafarers in harm’s way amounts to a breach of the shipowner’s duty of care.” The ITF describes a motion adopted by its Fair Practices Committee as a statement of intent that flag states and shipowners have to assess the risks and act definitively to combat them, or risk finding themselves outside the law.
Steve Cotton, maritime coordinator with the ITF, says, “There are countries actively fighting piracy and there are owners training and supporting their crews to resist it. Then there are others who are shirking responsibility and as good as accepting its steadily growing menace, which has now brought us to the point where one of the world’s great trading routes is now almost too dangerous to pass through.”
The ITF’s statement, Cotton adds, “reflects the frustration of all those who work at sea at the dire situation we’ve reached—one where pirates act virtually unmolested and, even if intercepted, with virtual impunity from arrest. It calls into question the very legality of continuing to send ships through much of the Indian Ocean. It is therefore imperative that not only must protective escorts be used but that flag states immediately decide on the protective measures that they must recommend for the ships that are flying their flag and that those ships’ operators comply with them.
“We, and many others, also want to see the end of what’s virtually an open secret in shipping—that many of the world’s largest ship registers have provided not one vessel to patrol an ocean that can only be made safe by an increase in the number of warships needed to aggressively patrol and police it. I am not aware of a single flag of convenience country that is acting in this way to protect the ships that are supposedly their responsibility.”
The ITF statement on piracy, released after being adopted by the Fair Practices Committee (a joint decision making committee of seafarers’ and dockers’ unions which, among other duties, considers war risks), is as follows:
Statement on Piracy
The ITF Seafarers Section having assessed the growing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia and now in the wider Indian Ocean has determined that save in exceptional circumstances ships should not transit the area. The risk of attack is now so great that putting seafarers in harms way amounts to a breach of the shipowner’s duty of care.
The exceptional circumstances relate to:
* having close active protection from naval forces or being in a convoy which has an adequate naval escort; or
* the ship can be classified as low risk and has a proven level of protection measures in place.
The ITF also considers that seafarers should suffer no detriment from refusing to take ships into these high risk areas. Seafarers have a right to refuse to put themselves in harms way and the right to be relieved before the ship enters a high risk area. The ITF calls on flag States and shipowners to uphold seafarers’ rights in this regard.
The ITF re-affirmed the position that seafarers should not be armed.
The ITF calls on the wider shipping industry to support this position and to take all measures to ensure the protection of seafarers by not putting them in harms way.