Another front has been opened in the war on Somali piracy with the launch yesterday, 20th of May, of an e-petition demanding forthright action from all governments to end the problem. The idea is to gather at least .5 million signatures and deliver them to governments by 23rd September, IMO World Maritime Day. It’s a commendable undertaking but will it really make a difference?

The governments to whom the petition is addressed might be inclined to pay attention. After all, the biggest names in the maritime world are behind the effort: BIMCO (The Baltic and International Maritime Council), ICS (International Chamber of Shipping), IFSMA (International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations), IMEC (International Maritime Employers’ Committee), IPTA (International Parcel Tankers Association), Intercargo (International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners), InterManager (International Ship Managers’ Association), International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I), INTERTANKO, ISF (International Shipping Federation), ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation), IUMI (International Union of Marine Insurance) and SIGTTO (Society of International Gas Tankers & Terminal Operators Ltd).

On the other hand, most signature campaigns tend to have big symbolic value but little practical impact. The anti-piracy e-petition may turn out to be one of them. If some of the governments targeted by the e-petiion had done little or nothing in the past, Heaven knows what will spur them into action this time. The other problem has to do with the petition itself and the actions it demands of governments, to wit:

• Dedicate significant resources and work to find real solutions to the growing piracy problem.
• Take immediate steps to secure the release and safe return of kidnapped seafarers to their families
• Work within the international community to secure a stable and peaceful future for Somalia and its people

The first item sounds too broad and somewhat tentative. What exactly is meant by “significant resources”? “Real” solutions? A myriad ways to deal with Somalia-based piracy have already been put forward and a good number are being applied with some positive results – from naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden to the hiring of onboard security guards and the prosecution of captured suspected pirates.The time for discussing and debating what can be done is over.

The second item is actually unnecessary. Countries whose seafarers are held for ransom by the pirates do try to take immediate steps to effect their release through diplomatic channels and with the help of allied navies in the area. Those who worded the petition must have been watching too many Hollywood hostage drama films.

The last item would be right on the money except that it is, once again, a bit nebulous. It’s actually a motherhood statement. Why not say outright that the roots of the problem should now be attacked frontally – namely, the abysmal poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities of the Somali people and the absence of an effective central government in the region? What we have been seeing are attempts to alleviate the symptoms, not cure the disease. Enough of the palliatives.. ~Barista Uno

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