Piracy rates are falling, but more attention must still be given to seamen who have been held hostage or attacked by pirates, a US expert said in Taipei.
Douglas Stevenson, chairman of the London-based International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA), said “piracy rates are down” as a result of improved ship management, an increased military presence and the hiring of private security guards, among other factors.
However, several issues related to the problem of piracy still need to be addressed, Stevenson said. Among them is providing the necessary therapy to crews who often suffer mental and physical mistreatment when their ships are hijacked by pirates.
It is important to “make sure they can get the appropriate therapy,” Stevenson said.
The ICMA is devoted to promoting the spiritual, social and material welfare of seafarers and tries to ease their hardships and distress.
Studies have shown that only about 30 percent of sailors who have been the victims of hijackings at sea think they received appropriate care after their release, he said.
Stevenson also touched on Somalian pirates, the focus of the piracy issue in recent years, describing them as people who see themselves as being “in the business of collecting ransoms.”
“They don’t really have an interest in killing anybody. If they kill anybody, they don’t get the ransom,” he said, citing many reports of crewmembers suffering beatings or other mistreatment after being held hostage by pirates.
Asked about the key to negotiating with pirates, Stevenson, a maritime lawyer and former US Coast Guard officer, said having “one designated negotiator” is key so as to avoid complicating the situation.
Taiwan, who has fishing boats in the Indian Ocean, has not been spared attacks by Somalian pirates and Stevenson urged Taiwan to establish more centers at its ports dedicated to improving the welfare of local and visiting commercial boat crews from other countries. Citing the PCT Seamen’s/Fishermen’s Service Center in Kaohsiung as the only such center in Taiwan, he called on the nation to step up efforts to build more of these facilities.
Stevenson, who was on a seven-day visit to Taiwan, visited facilities for fishermen in Kaohsiung during his trip. He also met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Agency to discuss the issues of piracy and seafarers’ welfare.