Sailors to boycott ships over piracy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am


Asian seamen's unions attending a summit in Hong Kong have toughening their stand against piracy by approving a call for seafarers to boycott merchant ships sailing through pirate-infested waters.

Kim Hye-kyung, representing the Federation of Korean Seafarers' Unions, told the Asian Seafarers Summit held in Mong Kok this week that the unions' attitude towards piracy off the Horn of Africa had 'changed dramatically this year.

'The [piracy] situation has reached levels which the International Transport Workers Federation's seafarer affiliates cannot tolerate any longer,' she said.

Around 70 delegates, representing seamen's unions from territories and countries including Hong Kong, mainland China, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Russia, then voted unanimously that seafarers had the right to refuse to board ships that sail in high-risk areas, regardless of whether armed guards had been deployed on board.

The unions also called on governments and ship owners to use transit routes other than those passing through high-risk areas, 'to secure the lives of seafarers and protect seafarers from piracy'.

'More and more seafarers are refusing to go,' said Arthur Bowring (pictured), managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association, referring to an increasing number of seafarers refusing to work on ships sailing through pirate-infested areas of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Bowring said a refusal by seafarers to board ships would be 'a real threat to world trade'. Ships carrying almost half of the world's seaborne oil pass through pirate-prone parts of the western and northern Indian Ocean, while about 20 per cent of internationally shipped goods pass through waters where pirates roam.

Reverend Stephen Miller of the Mission to Seafarers said there had been 480 cases of seamen being tortured by pirates and 62 seafarers had been killed, while around 400 are being held hostage.

He estimated that 100,000 seamen, out of a global population of 1.3 million, were on board ships transiting the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden at any one time.

International maritime industry groups said pirates had resorted to 'medieval tortures' if ransom negotiations became too protracted. These included 'attaching excruciatingly painful devices to the genitals, prolonged incarceration in airless, utterly dark freezers at sub-zero temperatures, beatings with AK 47 butts and muzzles, sticks or clubs; and being strung up on ropes, akin to a crucifixion in unspeakable agony'.

The move by the Asian seamen's unions comes as the Indian government considers plans to prohibit Indian seamen from working on Indian-owned ships unless there are armed guards on board.

Abdulgani Serang, of the National Union of Seafarers of India, said: 'Seafarers are more comfortable with armed guards.'

He said Indian seamen's unions and shipowners supported the idea of armed guards, although rules of engagement to protect ships and crews from pirate attack needed to be agreed. Serang said the Indian government had been robust in using naval forces to defend merchant vessels but it was taking more time to reach a decision on armed guards amid concerns this could lead to violent reprisals by pirates.