BRITISH shipping employers and unions have agreed to declare the Gulf of Aden a warlike operations area, in a deal that will double the pay of seafarers on many ships operated from the UK while serving close to piracy prone Somalia.
Although it is estimated that around half of all UK deepsea seafarers are already covered by a similar deal signed at the international level earlier this month, the practical impact of this latest move will be to extend the provisions to greater numbers.
The UK agreement between the Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus UK and RMT applies to vessels that transit the Gulf of Aden between 45°E and 53°E, for such time as they are north of a straight line connecting Cape Guardafui and the western tip of the Island of Socotra.
The co-ordinates were chosen because they represent the western and eastern extremities respectively of the Maritime Security Patrol Area, established by Coalition Task Force 150 as a corridor to protect merchant shipping from the depredations of Somalia"s pirates.
Operators of any ships choosing not to use the MPSA - other than for reasons purely related to safety of life at sea, weather, navigational safety or military instructions - are asked to allow seafarers the right to sign off.
Operators of ships in the zone should make special payments to all crew members of 100% of normal pay, payable in half-day increments, covering each day or half-day during which the ship is in the zone.
However, operators that arrange military escorts for ships, or onboard security teams to provide continuous monitoring and protection during the transit of the high risk zone, will not need to offer such incentives.
The agreement - which has already taken effect - will be reviewed by the Warlike Operations Area Committee, a joint employer-union body, not later than 28 November 2008.
A statement from WOAC added that it ?remains gravely concerned at the threat to innocent merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and encourages the international community to respond as urgently as possible in an effort to restore conditions for a safe trading environment upon which world trade and individual national economies depend, as does the safety of seafarers and ships.?
It also endorsed the recent resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, the European Council and the European Parliament on the Somalia crisis, and urged the UK government to provide an international lead on the question.
Unions were clearly delighted with the outcome. A representative of Nautilus UK, which represents officers, said that the fact agreement had been reached after the inability to do so in the Lebanon and Georgia conflicts of the last period was progress in itself.
?We have had a lot of concern in recent years over what we felt was WOAC"s failure to recognise the changing security threat to our members in the post-9/11 world.
?This is the first time we have secured an agreement for which the criteria for risk is removed from the war context. The criteria has moved on, and that is something we believe is a real advance.?
A Chamber of Shipping spokesman added: ?We are pleased to work with our partners to resolve this situation.?
Source: David Osler