Anti-pirate strike by seafarers not a good idea
The fight against piracy took an ominous turn in Hong Kong this week.
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.
A vote was taken at the Asian Seafarers’ Summit that was held in Hong Kong this week and the result was unanimous. Who wants to work on a ship sailing from Asia to Europe when the trip could end up taking two years and include an unscheduled stop in Somalia?
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.
There would be limited need for seafarers because only Maersk would still be in business.
The seafarers' threat to refuse to board is fully understandable considering the fate of many currently being held lies in the cynical hands of their employers. I certainly wouldn't like to have my continued existence riding on my boss paying a ransom. Unfortunately for them, the emphasis on fighting piracy is primarily to ensure global trade is not disrupted, with the human element coming second.
The chaos, famine and anarchy that have existed in the Horn of Africa for years are now worse than ever, so don’t expect democracy to break out any time soon. Even bombing the place into the Stone Age isn't an option because it is already there.
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.