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In an industry that never has been short on challenges, it’s not hard to make the case that piracy tops the list of issues confronting maritime.

Almost three years have elapsed since the headline-grabbing attack on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama – an ordeal which, it was hoped, might serve as a springboard to better and more-widespread counter-piracy measures.

Since that time, progress definitely has been made, but piracy remains a daily, deadly threat for mariners and even recreational boaters sailing along the eastern coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden.

One of the most visible signs of the widespread fight to protect seafarers kicked off shortly after the last MTD meeting. The “SaveOurSeafarers” campaign, launched by major international maritime groups representing every component of the industry, has raised the profile of this battle and has carried a unified message to governments around the globe.

From the beginning, the campaign has identified six specific goals:

•  Reducing the effectiveness of pirate motherships;

•  Authorizing naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment;

•  Fully criminalizing all acts of piracy and intent to commit piracy;

•  Increasing naval assets available in affected areas;

•  Providing greater protection and support for seafarers; and

•  Tracing and criminalizing the organizers and financiers behind the criminal networks.

Through that campaign and related efforts, improvements were made in the year 2011. For example, detailed reporting by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) shows that the number of ships and seafarers held captive by Somali pirates declined from a peak of 33 and 733 in February 2011 to 13 and 265, respectively, by the start of December 2011. Similarly, reported attacks declined from a high of 45 monthly in January 2011 to 14 for the month of November 2011; and the proportion of successful attacks was slashed from 20 percent in January 2011 to just 7 percent in November 2011.

Some of the progress is due to greater coordination among navies, improved sharing of information, the use of armed guards aboard ship, mariner training including courses and sessions provided by MTD-affiliated unions, and refinement of defensive shipboard counter-piracy techniques.

Of course, statistics are only part of the story, and this truly is a case where a single attack, a single hostage or a single fatality is one too many.

In addition to other efforts in this fight, MTD-affiliated unions during the past year have called attention to an especially noteworthy aspect of piracy. Namely, most if not all of the so-called flag-of-convenience or runaway-flag ships have either made woefully inadequate attempts to combat piracy, or they’ve made none at all. The burden of dealing with pirates is being borne by the seafarers themselves, ship operators and a few nations – including the United States – and the task of actually prosecuting pirates by even fewer. The MTD wholeheartedly agrees that the failure of FOC states to exercise their jurisdiction against pirates who have attacked vessels flying their flag is totally unacceptable.

The human cost of piracy is the most important element, but the financial cost also is extraordinary. This scourge costs the world’s economy billions of dollars per year.

We realize this is a complex and difficult battle. But, both through our own endeavors and through joint efforts involving the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the IMO, the Maritime Trades Department hereby reaffirms its commitment to spare no resource in winning this life-and-death struggle.