Nautilus Telegraph, July 2013: Piracy and armed robbery is now more prevalent in west Africa than off the coast of Somali according to a new report into the human cost of piracy.
The annual report — compiled by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), One Earth Future Foundation, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) — researches how many seafarers are directly affected by piracy and the effect it has on those who are taken hostage, as well as those who work in fear of it.
The report is in its third year and for the first time it also examines the threat of piracy off west Africa and confirms that seafarers are now subjected to more attacks and boarding by west African pirates than by Somalia-based activity. In 2012 there were 966 seafarers attacked by west African pirates and 851 by Somali pirates. A higher percentage of vessels were also boarded following attacks, with 800 attacks resulting in boarding in west Africa and only 381 off Somalia — highlighting the recent success of operations like EU Navfor and the Best Management Practices in the Gulf of Aden.
Once vessels have been boarded, the situation facing seafarers in Somalia and west Africa varies widely. In Somalia, seafarers are held as hostages and generally kept onboard the ship. Protracted negotiations then take place with the shipping company over the ransom amount. The average time for a seafarer to be held hostage by Somali pirates is now over two years. Incidents of violence against seafarers remain high, with most hijackings resulting in 100% of seafarers onboard facing physical abuse.
In 2012 there were nearly 600 hostages being held by Somali pirates, with 240 still held from 2010 and 2011. ‘I was anxious,’ said one seafarer interviewed for the report who had been held by Somali pirates. ‘When they hit the fifth month, I was very nervous because the captivity was already too long. Around that time we also heard that the pirates would kill someone if the money will not be released after a month.’
In Nigeria, attacks often happen in port and pirates seize cargo and take the personal effects of the crew. ‘In Nigeria, money moves quite quickly unlike Somalia,’ said one seafarer interviewed for the report. ‘In Somalia, it would take months. In Nigeria, the pirates take our [oil] cargo and the money of the [shipping ] company. It would take only weeks, it is quite fast.’
If seafarers are taken hostage they are moved to the mainland and ransom payments are demanded quickly. The report showed that hostages were held for an average of four days and only five seafarers were taken ashore. ‘[I]n our case, not only were we taken hostage, we were also robbed,’ added another seafarer interviewed for the report. ‘The company did not even bother reimbursing our personal losses.’
The report highlights that seafarers feel very stressed and very scared about the threat of piracy in both regions, and that this affects their ability to focus. Over 60% admitted that they would not tell their families if they were sailing through the high risk areas without guards.
Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson is calling on governments and shipping companies to act quickly to halt the rise of piracy off west Africa and ensure that the world’s seafarers are safe. ‘The operations in the Somali basin have shown that if governments work together then the threat of piracy can be effectively dealt with, and hopefully eventually eradicated,’ he pointed out. ‘The situation in west Africa is different from Somalia, but to seafarers the impact is much the same — fear. No one should have to work in fear and effective intervention by governments, working with the shipping industry is the only way this situation will be resolved.’
The report’s main author, Kaija Hurlburt of OBP, said the evidence showed continued vigilance and better information sharing is needed to relieve the plight of seafarers. ‘As long as one hostage remains in captivity, the human cost is too high,’ she added. ‘Seafarer welfare, both during and after being taken hostage, remains a huge concern and the effects of piracy reach far beyond the days spent in captivity.’