Over the last few weeks the Bring Back Our Girls (#bringbackourgirls) campaign has ignited quite a following across the globe. Initially fueled by many people’s outrage that the media had all but ignored the story, this grew to a lambasting of international super-powers for not stepping in to assist Nigeria find the girls. Mostly the argument followed the rather simplistic course that, if this had happened to 200 white schoolgirls the media would have been all over it and that if it was a situation that jeopardised America’s access to oil then they would have sent in the troops.

This is not the place to debate either of these suppositions and certainly the plight of these girls is one of grave concern. Indeed the message to Bring Back Our Girls has gone viral and everyone is standing up in support of it: from the ANC Women’s league to individuals keen to pen, blog and tweet about it to get in on the action. Even corporates are parading employees in front of cameras and posting photos of them holding up signs with the Bring Back Our Girls message on them – some of them in the maritime industry.

So damn it – where is the #BringBackOurSeafarers campaign? Why is every shipping company, support company, port company, importer, exporter and seafarer not jumping up and down for more media coverage about the plight of 54 seafarers who are still being held hostage in deplorable conditions. According to the recently released document on the State of Maritime Piracy by Oceans Beyond Piracy these seafarers have been held in captivity for almost three years.

“Substantial work must still be done in the interest of saving the lives of the 54 high risk hostages who remain in pirate captivity almost three years after their capture. Moreover, the continued ability of pirates to hijack small vessels such as dhows and fishing vessels is a continued risk. It is important to remember that piracy is not only a threat to the free flow of goods, but also to the well-being of individual seafarers, regardless of their vessel size or nationality. It is evident that the number of hostages in captivity, while trending downward, remains of immediate relevance to counter-piracy work and should be prioritized by the maritime and international communities,” the report says. 

While I am personally doubtful of the true effectiveness of viral campaigns such as the one directed at releasing the Nigerian schoolgirls and feel they simply help us feel better about being powerless in the face of such atrocities; what if they are even slightly successful in seeing their safe return as a global eye is turned to the situation?

What if viral campaigns do prompt the appropriate action? Then the maritime industry needs to be more active in pushing the agenda. Yes we have had successful intervention at sea in the form of naval presence, armed guards and vessel hardening – but 54 seafarers are still no closer to going home. So as you spare a thought for the schoolgirls and their families – spare a thought for those seafarers and their families and consider some action. #BringBackOurSeafarers.




Piracy puts us on the big screen

Is it unfair to say that Tom Hanks is the next to actually stand to benefit from the scourge of piracy off the Somali coast? Breaking news from Hollywood at the beginning of the week names the actor as the chosen lead in a film depicting the true-life drama that played out on board the Maersk Alabama when it was captured by pirates. The film is to be based on the book by Captain Richard Phillips who was in charge of the vessel at the time.

Tom Hanks is an actor who can demand up to $30 million per movie plus profit participation which, in the case of Forest Gump, saw him walk away with $70 million. That’s not a bad pay check – higher in fact than most pirates’ ransoms!

In the 15 years that I have been reporting on the maritime industry for specialist publications – piracy has been the topic that I have received the most calls from the daily newspapers for information on. It’s unfortunate that this is the reality that has catapulted the world of shipping into the headlines and it does nothing for the industry’s very real need to attract youngsters into a career at sea.

Indeed most feature films depicting aspects of the maritime world revolve around disaster. That many are based on true stories does not bode well for the image of the industry, but then where would the drama be in plain sailing?

And so while legal, emergency and medical vocations are glamourised in shows such as ER, Gray’s Anatomy, LA Law and so forth – surely a case can be made for a series that follows the lives of a crew across the globe. It’s a perfect set-up for a show that relies on the need to focus on the relationships between a small group of people who interact on a daily basis. Yes, certainly there will be incidents that will do nothing to attract new seafarers – but on the whole it may go a long way towards promoting the industry by exposing more people to the fact that there are other options for them outside of being a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman or a firefighter.