Piracy is at an all-time high, with 351 attacks reported so far in 2011. The most piracy-prone area is the waters off Somalia, where there are currently 14 vessels with 272 seafarers being held for ransom.
There have been some notable cases recently indicating that pirates have used extreme brutality and the threat of death against seafarers and their relatives. The new Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) is intended to help those affected cope with the resulting pain and anguish.
Funded by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) Seafarers’ Trust charity and The TK Foundation, and chaired by Peter Swift, formerly MD of industry body INTERTANKO, the new programme speaks for an alliance of ship owners, trade unions, managers, manning agents, insurers and welfare associations representing the entire shipping industry.
At the campaign’s launch, a victim of one of the most horrific cases gave an emotional explanation of how he and fellow crewmen were treated by Somali pirates. He was himself so badly beaten up that he has decided not to return to sea. Senior officers on his vessel were stripped and forced into the refrigerated compartment of the vessel.
It is important to fully understand what triggered such unacceptable behaviour by the pirates so that lessons can be learned and used in preparing crews to cope with such circumstances. There have been numerous instances where pirates have threatened to kill hostages or forced them to plead for their lives while on the telephone to their families. Such tactics are aimed at applying pressure to speed up ransom negotiations. In some cases these events have been filmed and put on the Internet for families to see.
IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan commented: “There can be no justification for such abuse of seafarers. As these attacks have continued over time, there is a danger of the rest of world condoning certain levels of mistreatment of crew, considering them normal and even making excuses for why the pirates have behaved brutally in specific circumstances. This is simply wrong. Mistreatment of crew, even at the basic level of loss of personal space or freedom of movement, bullying and denial of acceptable levels of food and water, should not be tolerated. Sleeping communally on the bridge of the ship under the watchful eyes of armed pirates for six months is totally unacceptable. Seafarers do not go to sea to be placed in these conditions.”
Mr Mukundan continued: “The world should strongly condemn these actions and the pirates responsible should be punished. MPHRP is an excellent initiative aimed at mitigating some of the effects of these crimes. It deserves the support of all in the industry.”