The escalating brutality of Somali pirates is appalling. But we don’t know what to make of the new anti-piracy campaign that was launched on the 1st of March by the same groups behind last year’s End Piracy Now! drive. The campaigners have dubbed it “Save Our Seafarers (SOS)” and they’re calling on people power – by the millions – to pressure governments to crack down on the maritime thugs. Have they been mesmerised by the revolt in Libya against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi?
BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Shipping Federation (ISF), Intercargo, INTERTANKO and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are at least clear about their objectives. They want governments to “recognise the threat to our seafarers and the world economy” and take the “necessary steps to eradicate piracy at sea and ashore” by:
- reducing the effectiveness of the easily-identifiable pirate motherships.
- authorising naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment.
- fully criminalising all acts of piracy and intent to commit piracy under national laws in accordance with their mandatory duty to co-operate to suppress piracy under international conventions.
- increasing naval assets available in this area.
- providing greater protection and support for seafarers.
- tracing and criminalising the organisers and financiers behind the criminal networks.
All this represents some improvement. The e-petition which lay at the core of the 2010 End Piracy Now! movement smacked of bureaucratese and was wanting in concrete proposals. We’re still skeptical, though. The SOS crusade is still Internet-based with the immediate aim of getting people to send letters to Mr President or Mr Prime Minister. The SOS campaigners, who are now waving the People Power banner and apparently riding on the mass protests in the Middle East, seem to miss two points.
First, people power doesn’t just happen. It entails a long gestation, the anger and frustration silently building up in the hearts and minds of a people until one day it all erupts like Mount Pinatubo. This was the case with the 1986 EDSA popular revolt in the Philippines. It is so with the current uprising against the 41-year Gaddafi rule. For the SOS campaigners to think that paid newspaper ads and a nice-looking website will summon forth people power against Somali piracy is to misuse or misunderstand this great phenomenon of modern history.
Second, piracy may be in the headlines but not in the consciousness of the general public. Ordinary folks – landlubbers, more precisely – will be shocked at the latest depredations by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean. They’ll react the same way at news of scores being killed in a fire or earthquake somewhere on this planet, and then go on with their daily lives. How many, even in Manila, the world’s crewing capital, give a hoot about seafarers? How much connected really is the shipping industry to the rest of humankind?
These are questions the SOS campaigners might do well to ponder. Nothing wrong with trying to compel governments to act on the piracy problem and using the media to put the squeeze. The reality, however, is that the time for ball-dribbling and ball-passing is over. The ball is – or should be – in the court of the UN Security Council and perhaps the Pentagon or the CIA. What’s needed is not people power or some PR whiz kid but a captain for the team. ~Barista Uno