The hijackings and kidnappings orchestrated by Somali pirates in waters halfway around the globe are rippling back to shores of this country, Canadian shipping companies say, and they've joined an international campaign urging world governments to do more to combat the problem.
Several international shipping associations and sailors' unions have launched the Save Our Seafarers campaign, warning the "growing Somali piracy crisis" is threatening global trade and endangering those working on ships plying the waters off Africa's east coast.
The campaign's supporters include the Chamber of Shipping of B.C. and Fairmont Shipping (Canada) Ltd., which say Canadian companies have had to turn down business and make costly changes to shipping routes to avoid the precarious waters patrolled by pirates.
"This problem has been recurring and has been escalating to a degree that we don't feel this is something the industry can resolve," Samuel Tang, a Fairmont Shipping vice-president, said in an interview.
Somali piracy has been a persistent and sometimes deadly problem in recent years off eastern Africa and in the northern Indian Ocean, in particular Africa's Gulf of Aden, considered one of the most dangerous waterways in the world.
Pirates have captured hundreds of ships and thousands of crew members over the years, and right now are believed to be holding nearly 700 hostages and some 30 vessels.
The Save Our Seafarers campaign has a list of requests for world governments - including Canada
They want international forces to more aggressively target pirate motherships; authorize naval forces to hold pirates and hand them over for prosecution; strengthen laws to ensure all aspects of piracy and its financing are covered; and increase naval presence in the region to go after pirates and provide greater protection for sailors.
Stephen Brown of the Chamber of Shipping of B.C. said a particular frustration is that pirates who are captured by international naval forces are often released, allowing them to quickly return to terrorizing ships passing through the region.
Mr. Brown, a former ship captain who sailed for two decades, acknowledged Canada has played a role in policing the waters off the African coast, sending naval frigates to the Horn of Africa three times since 2008.
But Mr. Brown said the federal government still isn't giving the issue enough attention. He said Canada should be doing more to pressure other governments, particularly through its membership on the UN's International Maritime Organization.
"We have a government that is quite tough on law and order, and we have tried to get the government's attention on this but ... it's been falling on deaf ears," he said, noting he's met with government officials and written letters, but to no avail.
"I did eventually get a reply after about six months to a letter I wrote to (Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon), but it didn't offer any improvement or progress on the Canadian government position."
Officials with the Foreign Affairs Department were unavailable for comment.
Mr. Brown said it's been difficult to ensure the federal government pays attention to the piracy issue, particularly because no Canadian ships have so far been targeted.
"If somebody hijacks an aircraft, obviously it becomes a big worldwide news story," he said.
"Unless we keep the piracy issue in the forefront, it's being forgotten."
The piracy has affected not only cargo ships, but pleasure craft, as well. Last week, pirates killed four American hostages captured on their yacht, and a Danish family, including three teenage children, have also been captured.
Maritime insurance providers have expanded the areas that shipping companies are forbidden to sail through, which has meant Egypt's Suez Canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea is effectively off-limits, said Tang.
The Save Our Seafarers campaign estimates piracy is costing global economies $12 billion a year, although it doesn't explain how it came up with that figure.
Mr. Tang said his company has been forced to turn away charter business because it can't run the risk - to its business and its workers - of encountering pirates.
"Somolia is quite far away from Canada, it seems we are not concerned," he said.
"The ship owners will pass on the insurance cost to the charters, the charters will pass it down to the shippers, and then the shippers will pass that down to the consumers."