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November 7, 2005

Maritime union wants naval protection against pirates

British maritime officers' union NUMAST is calling for a multinational naval task force to be established to protect ships in piracy-prone areas

The call comes after the attempted attack off Somalia on the Bahamas-flagged cruiseship Seabourn Spirit, in which one crew member was injured (see earlier report).

Since March 2005, there have been 23 attacks against shipping in the area, including the seizure of vessels delivering relief cargoes for the UNŐs World Food Program.

NUMAST-- which represents some 19,000 masters, officers and other maritime professionals --says the threat to maritime trade, lives, safety and the environment is so great in some hotspots that naval protection is essential.

It wants a United Nations-coordinated force of ships, backed up by aerial surveillance, to be deployed off the coast of east Africa to deter attacks on shipping.

Without such a deterrent, says NUMAST, there will be a growing risk of substantial loss of life or a major environmental disaster.

NUMAST points out that an increasing number of seafarers have been killed, injured or held hostage in the increasingly violent attacks on shipping. On average, a ship is attacked daily and 30 seafarers were murdered last year.

The union is concerned that attacks on shipping are becoming increasingly sophisticated and more violent, and is also meeting British shipowners this week for talks on a "war risk" agreement to cover seafarers serving on ships off Somalia.