August 01, 2013

Guns N’ Poses

(I wrote this piece more than two weeks ago and gave shipping time to prove me wrong before sending it in for publication. I needn’t have bothered.)

The saga of the Albedo- sunk off Somalia on July 6 after more than two and a half years in pirate hands, condition of survivors not really known- has more or less gone unnoticed except in the usual sections of the maritime press, and even that seems to be fatigued with seamen hostage stories. 

It appears, also, that the rest of the shipping community has become weary of striking its usual pose of concern and simulated outrage: there has been no clamour to pressurise governments to negotiate for the Albedo survivors release- or, for that matter, those of the Asphalt Venture who remain hostage since 2010- and after ransom was paid in mid-2011. Even the heart breaking letter written by the families of the Albedo crew begging Somali’s worldwide to pressurise their clan leaders to act has failed to generate any real interest. 

Maybe the poseurs in the industry are finally tired of the act. Or maybe, like Oscar Wilde, they are finding being natural a very difficult pose to keep up. 

Meanwhile, the EUNAVFOR folk seem to be running around like a bunch of sleazy paparazzi chasing Megan Fox on a beach, sighting an Albedo lifeboat here or there, but clueless about what actually happened on the Albedo, exactly how many crew survived and how many are still alive. Or maybe they know and are not talking. If so, why?

The mainstream media has concentrated more on the ‘last ship in Somali hands sinks’ story, ignoring the fifty or so seamen still held hostage by pirates in that failed State. A prominent section of the press in India reported, instead, that the MV Cotton was hijacked by Somali pirates when she was actually taken off West Africa! Such is the calibre of news reporting these days, or maybe it is just a reflection of the lazy interest shown by most of the general population when it comes to anything maritime.

An interesting thing is happening as West African piracy escalates in violence and spreads in area, with mother ships now being used and seamen being taken hostage in large numbers. What is noticeable is that there seems to be a subtle conspiracy afoot that downplays this menace. Media reports are nowhere as widespread or as strident as they are with Somali piracy and shipping organisations are not out there with their patronising advice for crews or their self-congratulatory press releases. If I were paranoid, I would think that shipping and its insurers have decided that higher reporting translates to higher ransoms, and acted as they usually do. To do this they are posing again- a different pose this time, but a pose nevertheless. They are pretending, even as everything is hitting the fan, that the problem is not so big. The other pose of concern for crew has been abandoned. 

Unfortunately, this development has also meant that there nothing being done to address the particular problems of West African piracy, including issues with corrupt officials in governments linked to either the hijackers or to the anti-piracy gravy train. The fact that Somalia is a failed State has some advantages for shipping and navies, who could do as they wished off the Somali coast. Countries around the West African rim will not appreciate their waters being treated in a similar cavalier fashion by EUNAVFOR or some such ‘international’ force. Hell, even carrying arms aboard merchant ships there can be a big issue. 

What all this means, sadly, is that Masters and crews are more on their own than ever before. One would have wanted the Somali piracy problem to have ended with a more generic solution, which could be rapidly and effectively applied everywhere else after adjustments for local conditions. But that was not meant to be, because shipping and its administrators- whether in governments, national and international administrations or in commerce- failed. They failed for many reasons, but the biggest reason they failed is that they did not care enough about ships’ crews. 

Instead of finding long term solutions to the men with guns that threaten seamen’s lives, they choose, instead, to strike a pose. 



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