Yesterday, the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) made public a very important letter dated 9th September 2011. It was written by David Heindel, Chairman of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, to the US Navy’s Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. We are reproducing Mr Heindel’s letter together with Admiral Stavridis’ reply. The communication between the two gentlemen leaves no doubt that steps are being taken behind the scenes – quietly, patiently – to minimise if not eliminate the Somali piracy problem. There is hope.
Admiral James Stavridis
United States Navy
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Osaceur-Shape Unit 21420
Box 7100 APO AE 09705
September 9, 2011
Dear Admiral Stavridis
I am the Chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) Seafarers’ Section and Secretary-Treasurer of the Seafarers International Union of North America (SIU). I was pleased to hear that you met the ITF General Secretary and Secretary of the ITF Seafarers’ Section when you attended a piracy meeting with the industry, which was hosted by the IMO.
We are concerned that there seems to be a new equilibrium, which is much higher than in the past, and that it is being accepted. While it is true that the percentage of ships being taken is lower than before, the amount of stress and trauma that an unsuccessful attack generates cannot be overstated. That’s especially true of seafarers who regularly sail through the area. Piracy is draining the morale of the seafarer population, and mariners did not enter this line of work expecting to be shot at by RPGs and AK 47s. While we support the carriage of armed security guards we do not believe that they are an end-all solution. They are likely to result in an arms race and the pirates again changing their tactics. The developments this year have hit the morale of seafarers very hard, including the greater use of violence, abuse and even torture. We have seen some nationals being targeted and the payment of a ransom no longer guarantees their release. Holding nationals to coerce or intimidate a State is a new dimension and arguably a terrorist act.
One of our biggest concerns is the failure of the big flag States to make any meaningful contribution. It is clear that they are not effectively ensuring that ships which fly their flag implement the BMP. Neither are they taking any measures to exercise their jurisdiction on the pirates that attack vessels which fly their flag. This means that where there is sufficient evidence the flag State should be facilitating the transfer of custody of apprehended pirates and that the flag State should undertake the effective prosecution of the pirates and, after due process, their confinement/imprisonment. Their failure to conclude VPD MOUs, which would put them in the same position as they would be in if the vessel was carrying flag State VPDs, is adversely impacting on the effective utilization of the scarce naval assets which are available. This is why our organization is supporting H.R. 2839, a bill to suppress the threat of piracy on the high seas and for other purposes such as the reimbursement for actions taken to protect foreign-flagged vessels from piracy.
It is shocking that the Panamanian-flagged Iceberg 1 has been held since March 29, 2010. We know that it is causing severe strain on seafarers’ families, who have not received support or remittances from the owner. We can only imagine the effect this is having on the crew. Although it is said that negotiations are ongoing, it increasingly looks like the vessel and the crew have been abandoned. It is our understanding that the vessel is derelict having run out of fuel for the generators and as per a recent briefing from NATO, is now aground.
We need a more robust response in all areas. This would include disrupting the pirate camps on land and restricting their access to fuel and to their ability to store fuel. We would like to see their “safe anchorages” being made less safe.
We would like to work closely with you and to play an active part in raising the political will to take decisive action to combat piracy. If the military had been allowed to do so a few short years ago, I doubt we would be in the situation we are now in. Our fear is the longer it is allowed to go on, the more difficult it will become to deliver an effective response. We are already starting to see a similar model of piracy emerging in West Africa. Where next?
In summary, the ITF and American maritime labor are eager to immediately join with you in combatting the scourge of piracy. With lives being threatened and lost, and the devastating economic consequences felt around the world, piracy already has claimed far too many victims. Let’s take a stand together to help win this fight.
I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you in the future.