Shipping Trade Groups Call on UN to Protect Seafarers

crew hostages
Houthi naval commanders met with the crew of the Galaxy Leader which they continue to hold in Yemen ((Houthi Military Media)

Published Apr 19, 2024 1:02 PM by The Maritime Executive


Sixteen commercial maritime industry associations joined together in a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres calling for action while saying the current situation where merchant ships and their crews are being targeted is “intolerable” and “unacceptable.”

The groups thanked the Secretary-General and IMO Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez for their efforts and hard work on behalf of seafarers and for raising the profile of the commercial shipping industry.  They recognized the efforts that have highlighted the critical nature of free movement while saying seafarers and the maritime sectors are neutral and must not be politicized.

“We have seen a worrying increase in the attacks on shipping,” the letter states. They cite that Iran is now holding four commercial vessels (the tankers Advantage Sweet, Niovi, and St Nikolas and now the MSC Aries). The Houthis in addition are holding a fifth vessel, the car carrier Galaxy Leader, and its crew. 

“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern for the four commercial vessels and their crews being held hostage,” the letter states. It is signed by the major shipping organizations (ASA, BIMCO, CLIA, ECSA, INTERCARGO, INTERMANAGER, INTERTANKO, IAPH, ICS, IFSMA, IMCA, IMEC, IPTA, ITF, FONASBA and WSC).

They highlight that in addition to the crewmembers who are being held in Iran and Yemen, seafarers were killed during a Houthi attack earlier this year. “This would be unacceptable on land, and it is unacceptable at sea,” the groups write.

They are asking the UN to assist with “every effort possible,” to aid in the release and protection of seafarers. They call for all member states to be reminded of their responsibilities under international law to seafarers and due to the evolving and severe threat profile in the Middle East call on the UN for enhanced coordinated military presence to protect seafarers.

The letter comes as all the nations with crewmembers aboard the MSC Aries have been pressuring Iran to release the crew. Indian officials confirmed that a female cadet aboard the containership has returned to India, and they said Iran asserts that the crew is not being detained and can leave the country. 

Previously, the Philippines worked with Iran to exchange the crew aboard the tanker St Nikolas and was able to bring home the crewmembers who had been trapped on the ship for months. Iran however required a replacement skeleton crew to maintain the ship.