Seafarer deaths should not be accepted as ‘collateral damage’ in the war against piracy, prime minister David Cameron is being warned on the eve of a Westminster debate about attacks on merchant shipping.

In a letter to the PM, the maritime union Nautilus International has urged the government to urgently reconsider proposals to outlaw the payment of ransoms to pirates.

The union – which represents 23,000 maritime professionals, many of which have had first-hand experience of piracy – says it fears seafarers will suffer if countries agree to restrict or criminalise the payment of ransoms to secure the release of captive ships and their crews.

‘Ransoms remain the only way in which we can ensure the safe return of seafarers, and it is clear from a number of cases that any attempt to frustrate the payment can put crew members into even greater danger,’ general secretary Mark Dickinson told the PM.

‘We have yet to see any realistic alternative that would avert the potential for seafarers being exposed to even greater levels of violence and intimidation, which would then increase the prospect of refusal to sail into high-risk areas,’ he added.

The PM has already told Nautilus that he wants shipping industry partners to ‘engage fully’ with a task force that he has established to consider ways of preventing ransom payments.

But the union says it is disturbed that the representatives of seafarers have been denied the opportunity to engage fully in the task force and that the shipping industry has been allowed only a ‘restricted’ voice in the discussions.

Nautilus has very real fears that the work and constitution of the task force has been pre-ordained in such a way as to negate genuine exchange of views,’ Mr Dickinson added. ‘We consider that there are solid grounds for fearing that the decisions have already been made, and that the task force process is one that has simply been developed to give a veneer of consultation with the industry. The language used consistently across the supporting material demonstrates clearly that the objective of the task force is to prevent the payment of ransoms.

‘It is quite simply unacceptable that the death of merchant seafarers could be accepted as “collateral damage” in the war against piracy,’ the letter adds. ‘The consequences of what is now emerging from the initial meetings of the task force as a very real prospect are deeply disturbing and I believe the UK government must urgently reconsider the way in which this process is being conducted.

‘The solution to piracy lies in preventing the crime in the first place, not in preventing the payments that secure the freedoms of the victims of that crime.’

Andrew Linington
Director of campaigns & communications

Nautilus International

direct line: +44 (0)20 8530 1680
tel: +44 (0)20 8989 6677

mobile: 07710 073881
fax: +44 (0)20 8530 1015

Nautilus International
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