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Maritime Labor’s Fight Against Somali Piracy Is Yielding Impressive Results


For more than a decade, the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have been part of an international coalition dedicated to publicizing incidents of international piracy off the coast of Africa and eradicating them. A victory of sorts was reached on May 12 as that date marked one year since Somali pirates last succeeded in implementing a successful hijacking.

In 2009, the year of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama incident, Somali pirates hijacked 46 vessels off the coast of Africa. The number of such incidents rose to 47 in 2010, but fell in 2011, when only 25 such hijackings occurred.

Meanwhile, in 2012, in the Gulf of Aden, only 75 attempted hijackings were reported, which was down from 237 in 2011. Of these attacks, 14 were successful.  According to Donna Leigh Hopkins, an American diplomat attending the United Nations’ Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, this has been a result of increased international naval forces in the area and enhanced security aboard merchant vessels.

With 1,140 Somali pirates having been jailed in 21 separate nations, Hopkins said this has “started de-glamorizing piracy.”

International piracy was the subject of a recent meeting of the Contact Group, which includes more than 85 nations as well as a number of international and private-sector organizations.

Members of the Contact Group put the matter into context. While the decline is welcomed, it should not be a cause for complacency, the group stressed, as piracy is still a major concern in other parts of the world.

Hopkins noted the last successful Somali-based attack happened on May 12, 2012, when the MV Smyrni, a Greek-registered tanker, was taken. Loaded with tens of millions of dollars of crude oil, it was released in April after the owners paid a record-breaking ransom of nearly $15 million.

She called the hijacking “a poster child for what happens when shipowners don’t employ the best management practices … to prevent your ship from being hijacked. They did none of them, and they got exactly what one might expect. They got hijacked and they paid a very heavy price for it.”

Hopkins then pointed out, “Not a single ship that has employed armed security has ever been hijacked” while stating there are other security measures that have been proven effective.

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