Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Freight And Logistics Owes A Debt To Merchant Seamen

Organisations Illustrate the Hardships for Crewmen
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE- No matter what else happens in the world of logistics one constant has always been the hardship often endured by the crews of every nationality who man the ships which carry our freight to all corners of the earth. All too often seafarers have had to depend on the charity of others such as the King George’s Fund for Sailors, which has been helping seafarers since 1917 and is now rebranded as Seafarers UK, and the shipping industry’s latest initiative, the SOS SaveOurSeafarers campaign, designed to force Governments to act against the increase in depredation by pirates.

This week both bodies have publicised moves to aid their respective causes, Seafarers UK have followed up the recent Seafarers Awareness Week (6-12 June) by releasing a video to show how heavily the British Isles depend on seafarers and merchant shipping to deliver vital supplies (95% of imports are sea borne and three quarters of our exports leave the UK by ship). Every year Seafarers UK receives appeals for £5 million in assistance but can only supply around half of this sum.

Meanwhile the SOS SaveOurSeafarers campaign, whose many sponsors include such notables as the IMO, Intercargo, INTERTANKO, P & I groups and the ITF, have sent us a harrowing report into the parlous state many crews encounter whilst going about their business. Sixty two seafarers are known to have died in the past four years as a direct result of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, through deliberate murder by pirates, suicide during the period of captivity, death from malnutrition and disease, death by drowning, or heart failure precipitated by a hijacking.

These statistics have been provided to the SOS Campaign by Compass Risk Management and the International Maritime Bureau and have spurred the twenty four members of the campaign to express the generally held view that it is government inaction that has allowed piracy to spiral out of control in the region. The group have expressed in the strongest possible terms that restricting naval military operations to no more than a 'catch and release' exercise that deters and disrupts the pirates only to a limited extent, the vast majority of pirates caught are released in this way, the fate of pirates largely determined by who captures them.

Giles Heimann, Secretary General of the International Maritime Employer’s Committee (IMEC) and Chairman of the SOS SaveOurSeafarers campaign, comments:

“During the past four years over 3,500 seafarers have been kidnapped and held hostage by pirate gangs, who subject them to traumas such as being used as human shields, being forced to operate their ship as a pirate mother ship under pirate control, and to extreme mental as well as physical anguish.

“Hundreds of these seafarers have been subjected to horrific torture including being hung by the ankles over the side of the ship, being shut in the ship’s freezer room, having cable ties tightened round the genitals, being beaten, punched and kicked. Many of these seafarers remain traumatised and unable to return to their seafaring careers long after the hijack is over, if at all.

“It is terrible, and completely unacceptable, that ordinary people going about their everyday work should have to encounter such horrors. There are more than 100,000 seafarers at any one time either preparing to go through this area (training and effecting the so-called ‘hardening’ of the ship with physical defences), or actually transiting these waters. Taking their families’ feelings into account, you have up to half a million people every day gripped by fear due to Somali piracy.”

The SOS campaign illustrates their point by publishing an interview with Dipendra Rathore, a 22 year-old Indian deck cadet, was held hostage for 8 months on board the Merida Marguerite. He says of his eight month ordeal:

“At my age you can still bear pain … watching people twice my age being tortured, crying and begging for help is what really measured me. I felt so bad for them but I could do nothing about it, except for praying ... and then came the time when I lost faith and stopped praying too.”

Dipendra has found his faith again, and he says he is determined not to succumb to the terror and is determined to go back to sea. Many others may never recover from the psychological damage and will lose their livelihood rather than go back to sea.

To sign up for the SOS SaveOurSeafarers campaign you can use the link HERE.

Photo: A relaxed Dipendra Rathore aboard ship.