At least 90 percent of the stuff we use in South Florida comes through Port Everglages, handled by hardworking mariners. Such workers are increasingly under attack by the seagoing criminals known as pirates.
It's a scourge that many groups, including Seafarers' House, want to stop.
"If we knew we'd have to get up in the morning and deal with armed terrorists, we might be reluctant to go to work," says Lesley Warrick, who runs the mission for mariners at the port.
Her organization is among many behind a petition drive by an alliance called Save Our Seafarers, to push national leaders toward wiping out piracy on the high seas. The campaign apparently needs help: In its eight months, fewer than 27,000 letters have been sent.
Warrick chafes at what she considers to be the "glamorization" of pirates, whether in old Errol Flynn films or the present-day "Pirates of the Caribbean." She says piracy has to do more with "fear, theft and murder."
They’re terrorists," she bluntly says of pirates. "They make it hard for the maritime community to do what they’ve done for hundreds of years: allow safe passage."
Monetary costs of piracy are enormous, according to fact sheets on the Save Our Seafarers site. Just in 2010, just off the coast of Somalia, insurance, naval forces, prosecutions -- and ransoms for some of the 1,090 seafarers that have been held hostage -- cost anywhere from $7 billion to $12 billion.
The human costs are even worse. Pirates have fired on crew members and sometimes used them as shields in attacks on other vessels. Some reports tell of torture and murder.
"In Asian piracy, victims have been seen as witnesses and killed," says Warrick, who attended a conference on piracy in Tampa in October.
Because the vessels that stop in Fort Lauderdale don’t sail around the Horn of Africa -- focus of the most piracy -- the Seafarers' House clients haven’t been victims of violence. But from what they’ve heard, some voiced concerns about the work.
"They’re anxiety ridden that their next job might require them to go there," Warrick says. "It’s a challenge to find people who are qualified and willing to sail."
Though small for now, the anti-piracy movement may be picking up steam. The London-based International Christian Maritime Association reports enthusiastically about an announcement by David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom, that British ships would be allowed to start carrying armed guards. Cameron also said UK Treasury officials would work with Kenya, to track down pirates’ assets.
Still another association, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme, aims to help families affected by piracy, with measures like support groups and telephone hotlines.
Is this a religious issue, something for a ministry like Seafarers' House? Warrick doesn’t hesitate with an answer.
"Every religion is undergirded by a basic concern to care for one's fellow man," she says. "That means we must pay attention to what’s happening to our fellow travelers on the globe."
James D. Davis