Piracy is a very serious issue that poses a life-threatening risk to seafarers working in many parts of the world today. Nautilus campaigns to ensure that members can undertake their vital work in the safest possible conditions, with all the necessary protection and compensation.

Modern-day piracy is defined by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as 'an act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act.'

The Gulf of Aden

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden has long been a significant problem for world trade. Incidents peaked in 2010 when pirates took 1,181 seafarers hostage from 53 vessels.

Thanks to the combined efforts of companies adopting best management practices, the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU Navfor) Operation Atalanta, and the increased use of privately contracted armed guards on ships, the number of attacks by Somali pirates has dropped considerably in recent years.

However, all organisations involved in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden agree it could rise again if the current measures are allowed to be relaxed.

The Gulf of Guinea

Piracy attacks off the west coast of Africa (the Gulf of Guinea) have risen sharply in recent years and are often very violent in their execution. The situation is very different from Somali piracy in terms of its roots, the business model used, and the capacity of the regional nations to address the threat.

Though not failed states like Somalia, the nations bordering the Gulf of Guinea have limited resources and have difficulties in working in cooperation to detect and prosecute pirates, which have contributed to the growing threat.

Shipping companies are unable to use many of the best management practices developed previously in the Gulf of Aden to protect seafarers and vessels. For example, razor wire fences around the deck to prevent boarding are not an option, as many vessels in the area are undertaking ship-to-ship transfers, and many of the attacks are within coastal waters so armed guards are not permitted.

Therefore, a new global approach must be adopted to combat piracy in this area and protect the seafarers working there.

Asia and South America

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB)'s Piracy and Armed Robbery Map shows incidents of piracy in Asia – particularly in the seas around Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines – as well the northern part of South America, off the coasts of Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Seafarers' rights

Seafarers should have the same rights as shoreside workers to undertake their jobs in a safe and secure environment. Special measures must therefore be put in place when seafarers have to work in areas where a pirate attack is a threat.

Nautilus supports members who refuse to sail in areas designated as high risk, and campaigns to ensure that those who do accept work in these areas are adequately compensated and protected as far as possible.

Nautilus, via the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), is part of the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), which has an agreement covering seafarers working in pirated waters.

Currently, the agreement covers seafarers sailing in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and North Indian Ocean. It ensures that:

  • vessels transiting these zones have increased security measures in place (including adhering to best management practice)
  • seafarers have the right not to proceed with the passage and are repatriated at the company's cost
  • vessels may deviate from the international recommended transit corridor without affecting the terms and conditions for the seafarers onboard for collision avoidance purposes
  • seafarers are entitled to a bonus equal to 100% of the basic wage and a doubled compensation in case of injury or death on any day during which the vessel is attacked
  • any vessel which is attacked should report to international navies present in the area.
Protecting seafarers

Nautilus in the UK is a member of the Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC). This is a tripartite body that produces regular recommendations for shipping companies for members working in warlike zones. These areas can be wider than those adopted internationally.

The Maritime Labour Convention states that seafarers have the right to repatriation if they do not wish to serve on a vessel entering a war zone. However, this right is not extended to seafarers operating in areas known for piracy activities. The Union is working with the industry to ensure that additional rights, including those listed in the agreement above, are provided.

The Union supports the use of armed guards on vessels in high risk areas as long as this does not impact on the duties and responsibilities of the master. Many countries already legislate to allow vessels on their register to carry privately contracted armed guards in high risk areas.

However, the Dutch government does not currently allow this, preferring to use its own navy to protect vessels. Whilst Nautilus agrees with the principle of governments offering military support in areas with a high risk of piracy, there have been a number of occasions where this protection has not been available or has been prohibitively expensive, leaving ships unprotected.

What should I do if I encounter piracy?

If there is an incident involving your vessel, make sure it is reported. Without accurate and updated information on piracy and armed robbery, the scale of the problem and the threat to seafarers will be under-estimated and support for services such as the EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta may come under pressure.

Members are urged to use the International Maritime Bureau's 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre – E-mail: / or Tel: + 60 3 2031 0014.

What can I do to help stop piracy?

Nautilus continues to raise the issue of piracy with governments so that they understand the threats and continue to support initiatives such as Operation Atalanta and longer-term stability projects in places like Somalia.

The Union continues to work with shipowners in pressing the Dutch government to allow armed guards on Dutch-flagged ships where the navy is not available or would be prohibitively expensive. Members of the Union and members of the public can assist with this by putting pressure on their own government representatives to act on the issue.

Members can also help by fostering a greater understanding of the threat of modern-day piracy in their own communities. Giving talks to local groups and in schools can help raise the profile of the maritime sector as a whole and of the threat posed to world trade by piracy.

Seafarers who are not members of Nautilus are encouraged to join so that the Union can represent even more maritime professionals at international level and ensure that their voices are heard – there is strength in numbers.

Become a Nautilus member today