Many people believe that piracy went away with Captain Blackbeard in the 1700s, but it is a very serious issue which poses a life-threatening risk to seafarers working in many parts of the world today. Nautilus campaigns to ensure that our members can undertake their vital work in the safest possible conditions, with all the necessary protection and compensation.

What this campaign is about

Modern-day piracy is defined by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as ‘an act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act.’

Since 2008, piracy in the Gulf of Aden has been a significant problem for world trade. with incidents peaking in 2010 when pirates took 1,181 seafarers hostage from 53 vessels. Thanks to the combined efforts of companies adopting best management practices, the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU Navfor) Operation Atalanta, and the increased use of privately contracted armed guards on ships, the number of attacks by Somali pirates has dropped considerably in recent years.

However, all organisations involved in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden agree it could rise again if the current measures are allowed to be relaxed. The Somali piracy problem arose because the country was a failed state with no properly functioning government or rule of law. Although the situation in Somalia has improved, it is still considered to be a failed state. Therefore, the reason for the initial increase in pirate action remains – as does the threat it poses. In 2012 the EU extended the mandate of Operation Atalanta until December 2014 and also extended the area of operation to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters.

More recently, piracy attacks off the west coast of Africa (the Gulf of Guinea) have risen sharply and are often very violent in their execution. Although these piracy attacks are often discussed in the same vein as Somali piracy, the situations in the two regions are very different in terms of their roots, the business model used and the capacity of the regional nations to address the threat.

Whilst Somalia is a failed state, the nations bordering the Gulf of Guinea are not — although their limited resources, and their difficulties in working in cooperation to detect and prosecute pirates, have contributed to the growing threat.

In the Gulf of Guinea, shipping companies are unable to use many of the best management practices developed previously in the Gulf of Aden to protect seafarers and vessels. For example, razor wire fences around the deck to prevent boarding are not an option, as many vessels in the area are undertaking ship-to-ship transfers, and many of the attacks are within coastal waters so armed guards are not permitted. Therefore, a new global approach must be adopted to combat piracy in this area and protect the seafarers working there.

What we want to achieve

Nautilus believes that seafarers have the same rights as shoreside workers to undertake their jobs in a safe and secure environment. Special measures must therefore be put in place when seafarers have to work in areas where a pirate attack is a threat.

The Union supports members who refuse to sail in areas designated as high risk and ensures that those who do accept work in these areas are adequately compensated and protected as far as possible.

Nautilus, via the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is part of the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), which has an agreement covering seafarers working in pirated waters.

Currently the agreement covers seafarers sailing in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and North Indian Ocean. It ensures that:

  • vessels transiting these zones have increased security measures in place (including adhering to best management practice)
  • seafarers have the right not to proceed with the passage and are repatriated at the company’s cost
  • vessels may deviate from the international recommended transit corridor without affecting the terms and conditions for the seafarers onboard for collision avoidance purposes
  • seafarers are entitled to a bonus equal to 100% of the basic wage and a doubled compensation in case of injury or death on any day during which the vessel is attacked
  • any vessel which is attack should report to international navies present in the area

Nautilus in the UK is a member of the Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC). This is a tripartite body which produces regular recommendations for shipping companies for members working in warlike zones. These areas can be wider than those adopted internationally.

The Maritime Labour Convention states that seafarers have the right to repatriation if they do not wish to serve on a vessel entering a war zone. However, this right is not extended to seafarers operating in areas known for piracy activities. The Union is working with the industry to ensure that additional rights, including those listed in the agreement above, are provided.

The Union supports the use of armed guards on vessels in high risk areas as long as this does not impact on the duties and responsibilities of the master. Many countries already legislate to allow vessels on their register to carry privately contracted armed guards in high risk areas.

However, the Dutch government does not currently allow this, preferring to use its own navy to protect vessels. Whilst the Union agrees with the principle of governments offering military support in areas with a high risk of piracy, there have been a number of occasions where these vessel detachments have not been available or have been prohibitively expensive, leaving ships unprotected. Therefore, the Union is working with Dutch shipowners to call on the government to amend the policy and allow companies to contract their own maritime armed guards where the navy is not available or would be prohibitively expensive.

What we’ve already achieved

The Union has successfully raised the profile of modern-day piracy to ensure that the public, politicians and the wider maritime community are aware of the issue and its impact on seafarers.

Through the IBF we have ensured that our members have the right to not transit high-risk areas if they do not wish to, and that those who do work in these areas are adequately protected and compensated.

The Union raised concerns when governments considered making the payment of ransoms to pirates illegal. We highlighted the devastating effect this could have on the safety of seafarers who are taken hostage through no fault of their own, and supported the employers’ rights to do whatever they can to bring home employees who are taken.

Nautilus supported the formation of the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme which provides pre and post voyage training on dealing with piracy attacks. It also supports seafarers and their families who are affected by the physical and mental trauma from attacks or the very real fear of attack.

What’s next

Following the sharp rise in piracy of the coast of west Africa, Nautilus is working to protect seafarers operating in that area. European maritime unions and shipowners recently set out ways in which the best practices developed to deal with piracy off Somalia could be adapted for west Africa, and Nautilus is pressing for a meaningful response to this.

Whilst piracy off the coast of Somalia has decreased significantly, the threat remains and the situation could very quickly reverse. This is especially a risk if the EU member states discontinue funding for Operation Atalanta. Therefore, the Union continues to call on governments to continue providing funding for EU Navfor. Nautilus is also urging companies to continue to follow best management practice (version 4) when transiting the area, and lobbying for all possible means of defending the ship and protecting seafarers to remain in operation, including the use of armed guards where necessary.

As well as the current high risk areas, the IMB monitors piracy hotspots, and the Union keeps a watching brief on these, to ensure that members are aware of where potential risks are and to ensure that companies operating in those areas are making the necessary adjustments. In addition to the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea, the areas where piracy is currently prevalent include (but are not limited to) the waters around Indonesia, India and Tanzania.

As with many Nautilus campaigns, public awareness of the issues is very important. It is essential that the public and governments understand what seafarers go through to provide them with their everyday essentials. We write articles in the Telegraph and in the news section of our website which highlight where piracy attacks are occurring and what is being done to support seafarers operating in these areas.

We will continue to raise the issue with governments so that they understand the threats and continue to support initiatives such as Operation Atalanta and longer-term stability projects in areas like Somalia when this is identified as a contributing factor.

We will continue to work with shipowners to call on the Dutch government to allow armed guards on Dutch-flagged ships. Members of the Union and members of the public can assist with this by putting pressure on their own government representatives to act on the issue.

Members can also help by fostering a greater understanding of the threat of modern-day piracy in their own communities. Giving talks to local groups and in schools can help raise the profile of the maritime sector as a whole and of the threat posed to world trade by piracy.

British, Dutch and Swiss seafarers who are not members of Nautilus are encouraged to join so that the Union can represent even more maritime professionals at international level and ensure that their voices are heard – there is strength in numbers.

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