One of the driving forces behind the global, Save our Seafarers campaign has urged the international re/insurance community to redouble its efforts to encourage governmental action on the threat of piracy amid increasing reports of views being tortured.
Michele White General Counsel at the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) has said the association was keen to see underwriters and brokers alike add greater weight to the campaign which is designed to get governments to throw more resources in the battle to curtail the piracy threat which has stretched ever further across the Indian Ocean and has recently seen a supertanker carrying two million barrels of oil being used as a mothership of launch attacks deep into the north Indian Ocean and Arabian Basin.
The Irene SLwas released after 56 days having been held by the piracy gangs and 122 of those has seen the vessel being used as a floating operations base for the gangs to launch further attacks.
However as Intertanko’s Director with regional responsibility for Middle East, Indian sub-continent and South Africa Captain Howard Snaith said the treatment of the crew is now a major cause for concern.
“There is increasing evidence of the mistreatment of the crews in captivity,” he said. “We have seen the deaths of crews and disturbingly we are now being told of torture by the piracy gangs.
“Our members have been told and we are getting statements from crews which have been recently released of systematic and regular beatings of crew, keel hauling and other tortures which have left many psychologically destroyed.”
He also warned that the operations by the Indian navy off its coast and the capture of piracy gangs had also added a sinister new edge to the behavior of the gangs.
“What we have seen in recent months is the payment of ransoms for the vessel and crew but then a section of the crew has been detained by the gangs and kept in captivity.
“There is a growing problem with Indian merchant crew who are now being used as bargaining chips foe the piracy gangs in an effort to force the Indian government to release pirates which have been captured and inpriso9ned.
“This has elevated the issue away from one of pure revenue gathering to one of crew being used in effect as political prisoners. They are not interested in the money but want their colleagues back.”
Ms White said the rising numbers of the hijacks and the widening areas of operation had done little to incares4e the efforts of the international governments to take substantive action over the threat to global trade and lives of seaman across the world.
“If these vessels were aircraft and the crews being tortured and killed were American or Europeans then the governments would have acted far quicker and the response would have been far more concerted,” she added.
There is also a growing anger within the maritime community over the speed of reactions by the United Nations to the events in Libya and the armed response by a UK and French led coalition to support the Libyan rebels within weeks of the unrest while its has been four year since the Somali piracy attacked became a serious issue.
“We have been working hard with a broad range of associations both kin the marine and insurance markets such as IUMI and CEFOR to seek to create a greater level of pressure on governments to take significant action in terms of a response to the problem,” added Ms White. “Something has to be done about the problems because they are not going to go away without a solution which will need international governments to come together to take action and invest in greater protection of vessels in the region coupled with a political solutions on the ground in Somalia.”
There has been much talk in the market to the move towards the use of armed guards on vessels and while it is an option and one which has seen IUMI and other u=insurer alter their stance on their use it is not a long term fix according to Captain Snaith.
“The use of what in effect would be insurance funded armed vessels to escort vessels has been debated and suggested for the past three years,” he added. “It is seen in some quarters in the insurance industry as some sort of panacea to the issues we face but it is not. The solution lies on land and if we are to see the problem solved it will be done on shore not on the seas.
“The problem with the use of armed guards or private armed vessels is there are questions around things such as the rules of engagement, particularly as the fishermen off Somalia carry weapons to protect themselves. It is not however a problem the government warships have because they are well away of the rules of engagement they have and can respond with a greater degree of certainty.”
Ms White said: “Western governments see the problems as one which is far from home and does not affect them directly. It goes back to my point if it was American or European aircraft and their crews were being tortured the approach would be completely different yet the world’s seafarers are putt9ig their lives at risk each and every day.
“The fear has to be that if something is not done then the mariners may well refuse to operate in the waters and the movement of goods and raw materials across the world will be impacted.
“If oil and gas was not transported from the Middle East to the west there would be a real impact on the price of fuel and its availability.”
Ms While said: “Re/insurers have an interest not only in the cost vessels and crews which are captured by the business interruption to businesses if suppliers are unable to get materials to the manufacturers or the end users.”