Today, at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the United States House Foreign Affairs Oversight Subcommittee will hear expert testimony on maritime piracy. The Subcommittee, which deals with matters relating to international human rights, has called several experts to appear before it, including the Seamen’s Church Institute’s Director of the Center for Seafarers’ Rights (CSR), Douglas B. Stevenson.
According to a press release from the Subcommittee’s Chair, US Representative Bill Delahunt (D-Mass), the forum will explore the protection of vessels at sea and how the United States and other international forces can assist. The press release refers to “rich local expertise,” which will educate the Subcommittee on shipping practices and give recommendations for reform and improvement.
In a recent Open Letter to Governments, International Organizations, and the Maritime Industry, SCI’s Stevenson asked for increased attention to the effects of piracy on merchant mariners. The Letter, which was posted online, received a total of 737 signatures—many of them international seafarers faced with real dangers of hijacking. In the Letter, Stevenson asked for governments to work together with international organizations and industry.
Stevenson’s testimony to the Subcommittee on Thursday will cite his work on proposals to the International Maritime Organization and information on seafarer recruitment and retention. Stevenson brings with him nearly two decades of experience at SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, which includes handling legal cases of seafarers’ welfare.
After the rescue of American Captain Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia, President Barack Obama vowed to halt piracy. He called on other nations and the shipping industry to look at ways to make commercial traffic less vulnerable. Stevenson indicates that meetings like this one by the US Subcommittee are crucial in efforts to find solutions to concerns of safety.
The responses are hopeful according to CSR’s Director Stevenson. He says, “Because of recent events, piracy has taken front seat. We are using this attention to take positive steps toward eradicating the scourge of piracy and providing long-term care for survivors of pirate attacks. Seafarers need our help, and I am pleased to join our nation’s leaders in assuring seafarers that we will do everything we can to protect them from piracy—before, during, and long after an attack.”