Study Highlights Piracy Victims’ Hidden Suffering

Somali pirates attacked more than 4,000 seafarers with firearms or rocket propelled grenades last year and almost 500 seafarers suffered abuse or torture, according to a new report on the human cost of piracy published today.

The study from the Oceans Beyond Piracy project, exclusively previewed in Lloyd’s List today, also found that more than 1,000 seafarers were taken hostage, more than 500 were deployed as human shields, and more than 300 had to be rescued from citadels.

Oceans Beyond Piracy hit the headlines in December last year when one of its briefing papers attached a value of $12bn to the economic cost of piracy. But its latest foray concentrates on the human aspects of the piracy explosion, in so far as it can be documented from open sources.

However, the available data concentrates on categorising incidents simply as either attacks, boardings and hijackings, which fails to quantify the very real dangers and traumas faced by those at the sharp end. There is also evidence of increased anxiety among sea staff about the prospect of a pirate attack, whether or not they have previously experienced one.

Yet because seafarers come from a diverse range of predominantly third world countries, the issue has failed to attract the mainstream media coverage which it would otherwise have been accorded.

The Seafarers’ Trust, the charitable arm of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said that it has been pushing for an improved humanitarian response to the situation. For that reason it is funding a project involving 20 industry partners, chaired by former Intertanko managing director Peter Swift.

This involves talking to victims and recording their experiences, and working with employers and families of seafarers to develop best practice guidelines for the industry, for seafarers and for seafarers’ families. Training for all three categories in using the guides is also provided, with the aim of setting up a network of people who can respond to the needs of seafarers affected by piracy, including their medical needs. Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF’s seafarers’ section, said: “It’s essential that the human cost of piracy informs every shipping operation in the huge area in which these thugs operate.

“Piracy hurts those currently held, those who have been held and released, and everyone sailing in the affected areas, as well as their families. That awful human cost justifies and demands real, decisive naval and legal action to take on and defeat Somali piracy.”

Another humanitarian initiative is the Save Our Seafarers campaign, based around the website www.saveourseafarers.com, and sponsored by a wide range of industry concerns. This enables visitors to send governments an email demanding action.

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The Human Cost Of Piracy Remains Hidden From View
There is no single reliable source to inform seafarers or the general public of how crew are treated during captivity, or how widespread abusive tactics are among the pirate gangs writes Kaija Hurlburt

While the economic cost of piracy is well known, a new study reveals the extent of the human cost is much less well known.

According to Clipper Group chief executive Per Gullestrup : “Somali piracy has a tendency to be discussed in economic terms, but the real issue is the untold misery and trauma imposed on our colleagues at sea and their relatives by the Somali criminals.

We should be very concerned about the lack of concerted action by the global community in dealing forcefully with this problem.’’

Violence against seafarers by Somali pirates is escalating, but little is being done to openly measure and document these crimes. As a result, the plight of seafarers is underreported and misunderstood by the public.

The Oceans Beyond Piracy Project, a group of maritime experts who are especially worried about the lack of public concern, commissioned a new study to bring fresh insights into the impact of Somali piracy.

The study, The Human Cost of Somali Piracy, is to be launched on June 6 at Chatham House in London. The study’s findings indicate that during 2010:

  • 4,185 seafarers were attacked with firearms and rocket propelled grenades.
  • 342 seafarers were rescued from citadels (ships’ reinforced security rooms).
  • 1,090 seafarers were taken hostage.
  • 516 seafarers were used as human shields.
  • As many as 488 seafarers were subjected to abuse or torture.

The cost of piracy is high for seafarers. Both successful and unsuccessful attacks expose seafarers to dangerous experiences with the potential for long-term physical and psychological trauma.

For example, Dr Michael Garfinkle, who is conducting a study with the Seamen’s Church Institute on the psychological impact of piracy on seafarers, found that many seafarers, both those that have and have not experienced pirate attacks, show increased anxiety about the potential for a pirate attack.

In the case of an “unsuccessful” attack in which pirates are not able to hijack the vessel, seafarers are still exposed to weapon fire and explosives aimed directly at their place of work. If pirates board a vessel, the crew may be able to take shelter in a citadel.

However, this is also a dangerous and traumatic experience in which the crew awaits rescue for anywhere from hours to days while pirates try to violently force their way inside to reach the crew.

If pirates successfully capture a ship, they take seafarers against their will to be held captive for months on end during which time they face physical and psychological violence from the pirates, limited access to food and water, uncertainty about their fate and risk of death.

Problematically, there is no single reliable source available to inform seafarers or the general public of how seafarers are treated during captivity, or how widespread abusive tactics are among the various pirate gangs.

While open source news stories and interviews provided enough information to determine the approximate number of seafarers abused or used as human shields, there is no way to independently verify if these figures represent the true extent of the abuse.

OBP’s study makes clear that the abuse is alarmingly common, but the lack of more comprehensive reporting prevents the true cost from being understood.

What is clear is that thousands of seafarers have been subjected to gunfire, beatings, extended periods of confinement, torture and, in some cases, murder in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden at the hands of Somali criminals.

As Andrew Shapiro, US Assistant Secretary of State, made clear in a speech in March of 2011, “the attacks are more ruthless, more violent, and wider ranging. Hostages have been tortured and used as human shields.”

However, official data is available only on the initial incident, whether it is an attack, boarding, or hijacking.

This limited categorisation of pirate activities undervalues the dangers and trauma faced by seafarers by limiting the description of their ordeal to “hijacking”.

Developing public awareness for the victims of piracy is especially difficult because the maritime industry is fragmented by nationality at every level. Shipowner, shipmanager, flag state, cargo owner and crew members may all come from different countries.

For example, seafarers taken hostage in 2010 came from at least 30 different countries, the majority of which were developing nations. As a result of this great diversity, it is difficult for the stories of each seafarer to gain traction in the global media.

Seafarers deserve to know the full extent of the risks they face when transiting pirate infested waters.

In the words of a seafarer from the UBT Ocean , which was held by pirates for more than four months, during which time crew members were reportedly tortured and abused: “All the seafarers must be fully aware of this danger and risk in crossing the Indian Ocean.”

The Human Cost of Somali Piracy: Kaija Hurlburt, Research Associate; +1 360 464 5509, khurlburt@oneearthfuture.org. Oceans Beyond Piracy Project, sponsored by the One Earth Future Foundation: www.oceansbeyondpiracy.org

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