There are now over 2000 pirates operating off of the coast of Somalia in the Arabian Sea. They have subjected over 800 seafarers to serious physical and psychological abuse for up to 8 months. They are also costing the global economy between $7 billion and $12 billion a year. Shockingly, even when caught red-handed by naval forces 80% of pirates are released without charge. Free to attack again, they pose a huge threat to world trade and the seafarers who operate in the region.
Piracy in the region has been rising year on year since the second phase of the Somali Civil War. Concern has mounted since 2005, as the number of piracy cases has rapidly increased to crisis levels. The mounting unrest exploded early this year, when the international shipping associations and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) called time on Somali piracy by uniting together to launch the Save Our Seafarers campaign, designed to lobby world governments to take action to eradicate piracy.
Despite more cases being reported in the Western media there are still many people who remain unaware of the scale of the problem and the strain it places on the world economy. Piracy has now reached the point where it is beginning to strangle key supply routes in the region, as nearly half of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through the pirate-infested parts of the western and northern Indian Ocean. With 90% of the world’s food, fuel, raw materials and manufactured goods transported by sea, if the issue is not confronted and suppressed, we face severe risks to supplies.
Since its inception in March, the Save our Seafarers campaign has generated over 48,000 hits to its website from 164 countries around the world. It has also submitted over 14,000 letters to governments around the world. The campaign is now urging everyone to write to their government to urge action, protect world trade and secure the long-term sustainability of our resources. However, as Bill Box, a spokesperson for the Save Our Seafarers campaign explains, the public need to be educated about the severity of the crisis in order for the number of people willing to support the campaign and lobby the world’s politicians to increase.
“The number of ships being targeted and hijacked is increasing sharply,” Bill Box tells WideWorld. “These ships are being held for ransoms of millions of dollars. The human cost to seafarers and their families is enormous.
“All we ask is for Governments to take a firmer stance to help eradicate piracy. There are five key actions we need: reducing the effectiveness of the easily-identifiable mother ships; authorising naval forces to hold pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment; increasing naval assets available in this area; providing greater protection and support for seafarers; and tracing and criminalising the organisers and financiers behind the criminal networks.”
The impact of this increase in Somali piracy is twofold. Not only is there a huge economic cost, but there is also a huge humanitarian cost as innocent seafarers are continually being captured, tortured, detained and in some cases murdered.
These seafarers, who are not naval sailors but merchant seafarers simply going about their business, are becoming increasingly fearful and concerned for their safety. Now as many as 100,000 seafarers and their families are living and working in fear, the problem has reached the point where many flatly refuse to travel through areas patrolled by pirates. When this happens, vessels take far longer to transport goods, and prices for commodities from clothing to cars to oil will inevitably rise. As a result the wealthiest nations will deteriorate most rapidly and the poorer nations will suffer the greatest economic pain.
The difficulty is that no matter how much elaborate preparation and defensive strategies there are in place, attacks can occur very quickly, unexpectedly and often at night when people are less on their guard and more defenceless. In typical cases a small ‘skiff’ will be dispatched from an innocent-looking mother ship and pull alongside a vessel. These skiffs usually arrive undetected. The pirates will then announce their arrival with a burst of automatic gunfire and board the vessel via ropes and ladders seizing control in seconds.
At this point any resistance is futile and will likely be met with unrestrained violence. The captors are usually ‘high’ on an opiate drug known as khat and inclined to sadistic exhibitions of bravado.
From that moment on, life for the seafarers descends into a nightmare of deprivation, starvation, thirst, squalor, captivity, restraint, isolation from family and friends and worse.
If negotiations with the vessel’s insurers then become too protracted, inevitably the pirate gangs’ natural response is to torture their prisoners, placing them in excruciatingly pain for prolonged periods of time. Consequently many will be incarceration in airless, utterly dark freezers at sub-zero temperatures, subjected to beatings with AK47 butts and muzzles, sticks or clubs; or in some cases strung up on ropes in unspeakable agony.
On release, seafarers speak of losing both hope and faith as a consequence of the mental torture they have endured. They often emerge traumatised and skeletal with a lifetime of illness and depression to look forward to.
Bill Box adds: “The hostages’ lives become defined by the permanent corrosive tragedy of being unable to surmount the unpunished injustice they have suffered. That is the human cost of piracy. Wrecked lives, wrecked families, destroyed livelihoods and lost faith.”
“Ransoms cost the insurers about $350 million a year. That’s a lot of money finding its way into the pockets and bank accounts of the cruel and corrupt crime networks that have sprung up to process it. The actual pirates are penniless peasant fishermen, dragooned into crime under the threat of violence to their families or the reward of a modest payment; perhaps a few thousand dollars.”
Support the campaign
You can help stop this hostage-taking and help restore the freedom of the seas. Please add your voice to our worldwide call for government action. More robust laws, stronger enforcement of international conventions and firmer political resolve are needed to stop these pirates.
You can help take action against the rise in piracy by supporting the Save Our Sea Farers campaign by sending a personalised letter to your government urging them to take action.