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Two international maritime officials – one representing union mariners and the other overseeing an association of tanker owners – agreed that more must be done to insure the safety of seafarers against the scourge of piracy.

Jon Whitlow, secretary of the seafarers’ section for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and Joseph Angelo, managing director of INTERTANKO, spoke on consecutive days to the MTD executive board during its annual meeting in Orlando.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.  As Whitlow pointed out, more than 800 vessels have been attacked by pirates since 2008. Last year alone, some 113 vessels were fired upon.

According to Whitlow (whose organization is made up of nearly 700 transport unions, including several MTD affiliates, from 153 countries), “More than 60 seafarers have died – killed by pirates in crossfire or deliberately, by suicide in despair, killed in naval action to counter piracy, or died through illness, usually [because of] poor water, poor nutrition.”

Angelo stressed that the independent tanker owners who make up his organization are in complete agreement with labor on this issue: human lives and safety come first. Over the past decade, INTERTANKO has launched a full-scale campaign to educate the international community about the severity of the issue and offered possible solutions to the challenges that are facing the industry.

Angelo said that INTERTANKO consistently has lobbied the international community for enhanced safety standards and more adequate firepower against pirates. There are some naval fleets in the area, and that has helped, but much more needs to be done.

INTERTANKO has pressed individual nations to take more meaningful actions. While the organization hasn’t taken an official position, it has publicized the kinds of procedures that can, and perhaps should, be utilized in using armed guards aboard a vessel.

Both noted the international community has been slow in responding. For years, pirates who were captured routinely were released without a trial. That is only beginning to change.

Moreover, even when there are military and naval vessels available, they will only take action if all the civilian mariners aboard a vessel under attack are in a citadel, or in one concentrated area. 

Foreign commercial fleets have been hit hard by this problem. However, Whitlow and Angelo stressed that this is humanitarian problem of great consequence.

The pair called upon the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils to publicize the “SaveOurSeafarers.com” campaign.  Both the web site and grassroots campaign really have made a difference.