International Anti-Piracy Efforts in Somalia Must Continue: UNSG

The latest UN Secretary General situation report on piracy in Somalia is now before the UN Security Council. The report provides an overview and an update on the most relevant anti-piracy initiatives in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

During 2013, piracy has continued to be a major issue on the agenda of the UN and EU, NATO, several regional and other interested states as well as a number of specialized agencies, such as the UNODC, DPA, IMO, INTERPOL and FAO among others. Specific and ad hoc mechanisms and organizations, such as the Kampala Process, the Contact Group, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, the Trust Fund, the Hostage Support Program and a number of international conferences have proven instrumental in the fight against piracy.

It has been widely reported how incidents of piracy in the region are now at a seven years low. It is also no mystery how these positive developments are due to a multitude of factors, including the effectiveness of the international maritime patrol missions, the best management practices and the use of private armed guards in deterring piracy attacks, as well as the implementation of the “prosecution chain”, by which suspected pirates are apprehended, tried in courts of regional states and eventually transferred in Somaliland and Puntland to serve any imposed sentence.

“A number of measures have led to a decline in attacks: improved international and regional cooperation on counter-piracy efforts, including better intelligence- and information-sharing; targeted actions by the international naval presence to discourage and disrupt Somali pirates; increased application of IMO guidance and of the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy, developed by the shipping industry; and prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment of those convicted. The adoption of self-protection and situational awareness measures by commercial ships, including the deployment of privately contracted armed security personnel on board vessels and vessel protection detachments, are also believed to have contributed to the decrease in piracy attacks.”

The Security Council is expected to agree with the Secretary General’s recommendation that the international anti-piracy efforts underway in Somalia continue for at least another year. The obvious question is how long the international community will be willing and capable to continue financing its costly patrol missions, particularly given the waning threat (or risk of attacks). The question also arises on the cost-efficiency of private armed guards on board ships travelling in the region. The repression of piracy in the Gulf of Aden does not, however, solely depend upon these initiatives. The fight against piracy which started as an armed response, has progressively expanded into an integrated system that encompasses respect and promotion of human rights and the rule of law, governance, economic development, capacity building, treatment of juvenile pirates, alternative employment opportunities and legislative reform. In addition, environmental protection and exploitation of natural resources in the region are also being monitored. Even if the piracy drought continued in 2014, these initiatives are likely to be further stepped up and take center stage towards long-term solutions for Somalia’s future. Although we have been careful not to conflate terrorism with piracy, the impetus to continue these programmes also arises from the continued threat of terrorism originating in and/or targeting Somalia.

Piracy Best Practices Adapt to West Africa’s Setting

The surge of piracy in West Africa prompted some of the main stakeholders in the maritime industry to develop interim guidelines for the protection against piracy in the region. The guidelines, endorsed by the IMO, aim to bridge the gap between the prevailing situation in West Africa and the advice currently available in the fight against piracy. They complement one another and are to be read in conjunction with the Best Management Practices (BMP4) originally adopted to address piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Worthy of note is that the Guidelines identify the area off the coast of Nigeria, Togo and Benin as at major risk, although pirates are rather flexible in their operation and attacks have also occurred elsewhere. Significant is the absence in the region of regular patrolling missions by international navies, a designated group transit area or a specific information and coordination centre akin to the UKMTO or MSCHOA in the Gulf of Aden. In the event of a pirate attack, the main point of reference is currently the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, run by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency in Lagos.

With regards to the pirates’ modus operandi, their activity is normally confined to armed robbery of valuables from the ship’s safe, IT equipment and personal effects while the ship is approaching or anchored off ports; and cargo theft, mainly directed at oil and chemical tankers and involving the ship’s hijack for several days until the cargo is transferred by well-organized and coordinated cartels. Pirates appear to possess intelligence-gathering and maritime skills. While kidnapping occurred on some occasions, generally in connection with cargo theft or in areas characterized by political instability, ransom does not appear to be among the pirates’ primary objectives. Although this is a significant difference with Somali pirates, the fact that a ship’s crew is not seen as a value might in turn heighten safety risks, which is consistent with the fact that West African pirates have shown a greater level of violence during attacks. Engaging in a fight with the pirates is therefore strongly discouraged.

Finally, while it is possible to obtain authorization to employ protective services such as military or  police as armed escorts, the use of private armed guards is problematic, given the diversity of the legal, security and administrative frameworks and particularly considering that attacks are likely to take place within the territorial waters of States in the region, which often do not allow the operation of private security companies.

International Maritime Bureau 2011 Global Piracy Report: Successful Piracy Attacks Decreasing

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the anti-maritime crimes arm of the International Chamber of Commerce, has released its 2011 Piracy Report. The Report is compiled on the basis of the incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide reported to the IMB.

Not surprisingly, pirate attacks against vessels in East and West Africa accounted for the majority of the world attacks, with Somali pirates accounting for more than 50% of these. Out of the 439 attacks reported in 2011, 275 attacks took place off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. There are fears that pirate attacks in West Africa in 2011 were underreported.

The total number of pirate attacks fell only slightly from 445 in 2010 to 439 in 2011. Overall, in 2011 there were 176 vessels boarded, of which 45 were hijacked, and 113 were fired upon, in addition to 105 attempted attacks. While the number of Somali incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28. The last quarter of 2011 shows an even more significant drop. However, these numbers do not take into account attacks on dhows and smaller vessels which are often targeted by pirates and may also unwittingly end up serving as motherships.

These figures echo a recent positive trend already signaled by the International Maritime Organization. According to the IMB, this is mainly attributable to the presence of international naval forces in the Gulf of Aden, the enforcement of the IMB best practices (such as the use of citadels, sprinkler systems, and other active defences) and the deterrent effect of the employment of privately armed security personnel on board.

Will these positive developments continue in 2012?

Piracy in Somalia is Decreasing, says IMO

At the end of a year focused on a wide-ranging anti-piracy campaign, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) cautiously announced a decrease in piracy and other related attacks in Somalia:

“Recently compiled statistics show that the number of ships and seafarers held captive by Somali pirates have reduced from a peak of 33 and 733 in February to 13 and 265 respectively, at the beginning of December. The number of reported attacks has also declined from a high of 45 per month in January 2011 to 14 for the month of November 2011; and the proportion of successful attacks has been cut from 20 per cent in January 2011 to just 7 per cent in November 2011.”

Further up to date figures are also available from the International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre.

During 2011, the IMO engaged at various levels to bring about a solution to piracy and related crimes, particularly concerning the protection of both ships and seafarers as well as the enhancement and enforcement of maritime law. Most notably, the IMO dedicated this year world maritime day to the theme of “Piracy: Orchestrating the Response” and launched a campaign directed at improving coordination among States, the private sector, international and non-governmental organizations to tackle piracy.

 The changing nature of modern day piracy and other forms of armed robbery at sea, its increasing links with other forms of organized crimes, the deeply rooted social causes at their basis as well as their impressive economic impact have given a new dimension to the phenomenon. We have referred to this as transmaritime criminality.

While the falling of piracy related numbers in the Somalian hotspot is certainly a welcome news, the IMO understandably warned of the risk of becoming complacent with these positive results. Success in combating piracy remains contingent on the local situation on the ground which, in the case of Somalia, remains unstable. Current signs of criminal activities, particularly the risk of these spreading into West Africa, call for a continuing engagement with the process stakeholders. This should also be aimed at developing a comprehensive and holistic approach towards all facets and root-causes of transmaritime criminality.

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