Monday, August 15, 2011

Disposable sailors and the price of piracy

I'm going to repost an op-ed piece that left me furious, regarding modern piracy. You can read the original HERE. Highlights follow.

Anti-pirate strike by seafarers not a good idea

by Greg Knowler.

Seaman’s unions from Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and even Russia all agreed that their seafarers had the right to refuse to board ships sailing through high-risk pirate areas.

It was estimated at the summit that around 100,000 seafarers man the ships that carry trade between Asia and Europe and if they all refused to board, well … that would be a disaster.

Seafarers are people too, of course, and like most people they don’t appreciate being detained, tortured and sometimes killed. But it is difficult to see any refuse-to-board initiative actually taking hold, even if the move could gain popular support.

Shipping associations and various carriers have described this latest move as a grave threat to world trade, which it certainly is.

In fact, if all the crew of all the ships planning to sail through the Suez Canal stayed on solid ground and refused to board it would do far more damage to trade and industry, and to world shipping, than could ever be wreaked by pirates.

There are so many vessels in operation that port windows are tight and relatively inflexible. Delays quickly snowball into congestion and any coordinated Asia-wide action would result in a mess of biblical proportions.

OK, so far a fairly cogent argument. The author contends that because (in his opinion) there is no immediate solution to piracy, business must continue as usual. Now, damn it, where have I heard this argument before?


Oh, right.

Now, before we all sharpen our pitchforks, the usual pablum must be shoveled down our throats.

Naval patrols are welcome but they need to start boarding and scuttling mother ships that supply and allow the pirates to operate far from shore. Put armed guards on all vessels in danger areas and make sure their rules of engagement give them the authority to shoot to kill.

The Asia-Europe trade lane is quickly falling into the hands of pirates and it is time to take it back.

...and we must have ham if we are to have ham sandwiches. The usual statements are made.

Today's pirate-infested waters (as opposed to other remote places in Africa, the Carribbean and South America where piracy is an unusual, mostly opportunistic, but extant problem) share common geography with the pirate-infested waters of the middle ages. This isn't a new problem. However, the solutions employed two centuries ago aren't politically expedient these days.

I'm happy to see shipowners are starting to get nervous. Seafarers are being tortured and killed in sufficient number to make certain voyage routes unpalatable. The status quo is bad enough for them to make unionization possible, if only remotely so at this point. Now, with news that shipowners are pressuring seafarers to not report pirate attacks to help keep insurance costs down, it becomes blatantly obvious how little regard the well-being of sailors is being considered.
I'm not pointing my fingers at shipowners purely, either. There is an institutional disregard for seafarers, most of whom spend their lives without permanent employment; as such there is little incentive to worry about the well-being of casual employees who themselves owe no loyalty to ship or company. That's just the way it is.

I don't want to part here without mentioning again that I believe that the author is wrong in begging the question as to the issue of seafarers taking collective action in staying out of certain trade routes. The honest truth is that the process of getting a job on a ship, in most coutries, is so full of corruption and criminality, that an expedient solution to manning shortages, should it come to that, would be to simply have manning agents lie about the ship's plans during the hiring process. Once a seafarer is aboard, few of them have the financial ability to walk off a job should they refuse to sign on. The cost of an international flight may exceed the entire voyages' payout. As such, in my own opinion, it may be worthwhile to combat piracy through legislation; making it mandatory to protect the well-being of crew and vessel has always been the only way to ensure that there is even a modicum of protection available. Shipowners aren't going to volunteer to spend money. Who would?


TheLordThyGod said...

"Pirates suck ass!"

- Diary of Princess Irulan (The inarticulate years)

bigsoxfan said...

I hope that following this link doesn't send the blood pressure too high, but here is Maersk' Steven Carmel on the bottom line ($) of piracy.
He also spoke at a piracy talk a thon back in last year which the Naval Institute blog covered. Sad fact is, these guys are working for relatively nothing anyway and should they quit more will take their place and that is the way it is. Serious action on our part ashore, puts the dispersed captives in serious danger. Well, actually they will die as soon as the first boot hits the beach and word reaches up into wherever in that hell hole that is Somalia they are.
International law as codified in the law of sea, (see back issues of the Eagle One blog for references) apparently removed the hang by the neck until dead penalty for piracy. Currently, there exists a very grey area insofar as piracy prosecution and penalty goes. Obviously so, if you have followed the last four years of catch and release tatics.
It is a g'dmned mess at this point. The only good news is that tieing pirates to Iranian and Al Q terrorists seems to be solid, which puts some umpf into what has been a sad day for the USN and an overwelming denounciaton of the entire new world kumbyfrikinyah order. The pirates have played the entire world like brook trout. Time to cut our losses and throw some dynamite in the stream, although I doubt we will see any job action from Asia in these tough times.