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March 9th, 2011

Maritime Groups Organize Campaign for Seamen’s Safety

The deaths of four Americans, who were killed after their sailboat was hijacked by a group of Somali pirates, have galvanized the international maritime community into action.  A coalition of shipping companies and seamen groups has launched a campaign that is aimed at putting more pressure on international governments to take action against piracy.

The four victims, including a California couple and their two friends from Seattle, were on an around-the-world voyage on their sailboat, when their vessel was hijacked by a Somali pirate gang.  The U.S. Navy soon got involved in rescue efforts, but could not prevent the pirates from shooting and killing the four Americans.  As maritime lawyers, we were horrified at the cold-blooded and brutal nature of the attacks.  It’s rare to have pirate gangs gun down hostages like this.   It’s clear now that the piracy problem is not going away anytime soon.

The campaign, called the SOS Save a Seafarer campaign has been launched by the International Chamber of Shipping, InterCargo, the International Shipping Federation and other groups.  According to the organizers of the campaign, the aim of the effort is to encourage citizens in countries that are affected by the piracy menace, to put pressure on their governments to take more action against maritime piracy.  It’s not as if there hasn’t been an initiative against piracy.  Naval vessels from several countries patrol the waters off the Somali coastline looking out for pirate skiffs.  However, an attack may not be that easy to foil.  Sometimes a vessel takeover may be complete, by the time it takes a naval vessel to respond to the scene.

It’s clear that these meager steps to prevent piracy are not as effective as believed to be.  We need to see a large-scale, concerted, collaborative international effort to eliminate piracy, and we see no signs of that.

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