The prospect of a mass refusal by seafarers to transit the Gulf of Aden is among four “nightmare scenarios” that could worsen the problems caused by pirate attacks in the region, according to International Maritime Organization secretary-general Efthimios Mitropoulos.
Mr Mitropoulos said he had communicated his fears to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon about this and other nightmarish spectres — the capture of a passenger vessel, a major spill caused by a large laden tanker while in pirate hands, and a widespread deviation by maritime traffic around the Cape of Good Hope.
However, he said unions and governments of countries supplying maritime labour had been very responsible. “They will not take that decision lightly,” said Mr Mitropoulos. “They realise how important this is for world trade.”
Addressing the Maritime Cyprus conference, he said the success rate of pirate attacks in the region had halved this year and the number of vessels and crew being held had also shrunk by about 50% since a peak in February to 339 seafarers on board 16 ships today.
“But even one seafarer in captivity is one too many,” Mr Mitropoulos said. “We should be intensifying our efforts but, crucially, political will is lacking to increase resources in the form of more military aircraft and vessels.”
International Chamber of Shipping chairman Spyros Polemis said the continuing scourge was “an extremely depressing topic”. He added: “Since 2008, over 3,000 seafarers have been taken hostage, often after being held in the most terrible conditions, with as many as 60 so far losing their lives.”
Mr Polemis said the use of armed guards should be approved by flag states within a proper framework, but private armed guards were not a long-term solution.
“Rather, their use actually signifies a failure on the part of the international community — and those governments with significant military forces — to ensure the security of maritime trade,” he said.
“Sadly, one can only conclude from the current response of many governments that those thousands of seafarers that have so far been captured have simply had the wrong nationality. If they were all Americans or Europeans, the governments’ attitude might have been somewhat different.”
Mr Polemis said it was “really unacceptable” so many governments seemed to feel the current situation could be tolerated and that a box had been ticked by making a relatively small number of navy ships available to police Somalia waters and the Indian Ocean.
He said the fundamental problem remained lack of navy ships to protect shipping, which he likened to putting “a band aid on a gaping wound”.
Governments “still seem to be lacking a coherent strategy to tackle the pirates head-on”, he said.