Regional States Play Key Role in Fight against Piracy in West Africa

It has been some time since we first and last spoke about the escalation of maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea in West Africa. The United Nations Security Council recently issued a statement dedicated to the emerging threat of piracy in West Africa, calling for States in the region to play a key role in countering piracy and addressing its underlying causes:

“The Security Council stresses the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach led by the countries of the region to counter the threat of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as related criminal activities, and to address their underlying causes. The Security Council recognizes the efforts of the countries in the region in adopting relevant measures in accordance with international law to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea and to address transnational organized crime, such as drug trafficking, as well as other measures to enhance maritime safety and security.”

With the technical support of specialized UN and regional agencies, West Africa’s heads of State have already taken steps to counter piracy, including the holding of a regional meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon, which culminated with the adoption of the Code of Conduct concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships, and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa and the establishment of a coordination centre for the implementation of a regional strategy for maritime safety and security. The centre should contribute to the implementation of multi-national and trans-regional mechanisms covering the whole region of the Gulf of Guinea.

Piracy in West Africa has emerged as an additional threat to safety and trade in the region, with the number of reported attacks now surpassing those off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. While piracy in Somalia was borne out of the collapse of State institutions and their failure to counter insecurity and enforce the rule of law, West Africa is characterized by more stable governments with enforcement powers on their territory through naval and military assets. West African States are therefore in a position, and have a duty, to play a more direct role in the fight against piracy in the region. Piracy in West Africa, however, shows links with organized transnational criminality, such as drugs, natural resources and people smuggling and thrives through corruption at both the local and central administration level, which, in turn, creates discontent and lack of trust amongst the population. Independence movements have also degenerated into committing acts of terrorism. For some time, these phenomena have plagued the region and provided the conditions for the resurgence of piracy. Among the main challenges in combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is therefore the development of a coordinated approach driven at the regional level, bringing together costal States as well as regional organizations and encompassing the sharing of resources, intelligence and information within the framework of a common plan of action. While fundamental distinctions remain in the pirates’ modus operandi between West and East Africa, this approach can build upon some of the lessons learned in the so far successful strategy to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, including the modernization and harmonization of national criminal codes, upgrading of detention facilities and other infrastructures and other training or capacity building initiatives.

Upcoming Event: At Third Dubai Counter-Piracy Conference, Focus is on Rebuilding Somalia

The United Arab Emirates will host its third International Counter-Piracy Conference on 11-12 September 2013. The UAE has since long engaged in counter-piracy initiatives in the Gulf of Aden and the larger area of the Indian Ocean. The event, which will be held in Dubai, UAE is entitled “Countering Maritime Piracy: Continued Efforts for Regional Capacity Building” and follows prior conferences convened in April 2011 and June 2012. We have covered last year’s event here and here.

While the previous Conferences brought together stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to devise a framework strategy to combat piracy, at that time at its peak in the Gulf of Aden, this year’s conference will build upon the current successes against piracy and focus on developing the capacities of Somali institutions to strengthen security and long-term economic growth.

The key themes of the Conference will be:

  • Continuing to build awareness about the humanitarian and economic cost of piracy, including extending support to seafarers who are suffering from maritime piracy on the frontline;
  • Injecting a new momentum in the common search for an effective and enduring solution to piracy through collaboration across political, military, financial and legal arenas;
  • Encouraging a comprehensive, inclusive approach that can deliver a long term, sustainable solution to counter piracy, including land-based solutions;
  • Highlighting the significance of enhancing industry-government cooperation in addressing the issue through joint strategies emphasising sustainable long term solutions.

The official website of the Conference can be found here. A draft agenda as well as some of the main presentations and position papers are already available, giving a preview of the forthcoming debate.

EUCAP NESTOR: Bolstering the Rule of Law to Counter Piracy in the Horn of Africa – Interview with David HAMMOND

David HAMMONDFollowing retirement for the UK Royal Marines as a former frontline operator and then latterly as a naval barrister (Counsel), David Hammond was instructed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be the UK representative and lead lawyer for the planning, establishment and delivery of the €40m European Union’s “NESTOR” Common Security and Defence policy (CSDP) Counter-Piracy Legal Advisory Programme for East Africa. As part of the advance planning team, David gained unique and valuable experience throughout East Africa, including in Somalia and where he led the legal liaison with the Somaliland and Puntland authorities at Ministerial and Attorney-General level. David successfully delivered the NESTOR Legal Advisory Programme, involving the establishment of significant rule of law programmes and which he headed up until June 2012.

As the Horn of Africa slowly progresses from a strategy of immediate counter-piracy to a strategy of post-piracy development, David kindly accepted our invitation to respond to a few questions on NESTOR’s mandate and operation. The following answers are provided on the basis that they are correct to the best of his current knowledge.

• What is EUCAP NESTOR main role in tackling piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean and, in particular, what are its main thematic areas of operation?

As per the EU Council Decision 2012/389/CFSP of 16 July 2012, the objective of EUCAP NESTOR is to assist the development in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean States of a self-sustainable capacity for continued enhancement of their maritime security including counter-piracy, and maritime governance. EUCAP NESTOR will have initial geographic focus on Djibouti, Kenya, the Seychelles and Somalia. EUCAP NESTOR will also be deployed in Tanzania, following receipt by the Union of an invitation from the Tanzanian authorities.

In order to achieve the objective, the tasks of EUCAP NESTOR were identified as being:

(a) assist authorities in the region in achieving the efficient organisation of the maritime security agencies carrying out the coast guard function;

(b) deliver training courses and training expertise to strengthen the maritime capacities of the States in the region, initially Djibouti, Kenya and the Seychelles, with a view to achieving self-sustainability in training;

(c) assist Somalia in developing its own land-based coastal police capability supported by a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework;

(d) identify priority equipment capability gaps and provide assistance in addressing them, as appropriate, to meet the objective of EUCAP NESTOR;

(e) provide assistance in strengthening national legislation and the rule of law through a regional legal advisory programme, and legal expertise to support the drafting of maritime security and related national legislation;

(f) promote regional cooperation between national authorities responsible for maritime security;

(g) strengthen regional coordination in the field of maritime capacity building;

(h) provide strategic advice through the assignment of experts to key administrations;

(i) implement mission projects and coordinate donations;

(j) develop and conduct a regional information and communication strategy.

• Why the creation of a mission with such peculiar mandate in the Horn of Africa setting?

At that time, and as far as I was aware, it was determined that in concert with various other on-going counter-piracy initiatives, including military action by EUNAVFOR, established work by EU delegations alongside the IMO, UNODC piracy programme and the likes of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, that a land-based regional programme which imparted expert knowledge and training to judicial, constabulary and other engaged entities throughout the Horn of Africa was the most efficient and effect method of assisting with the suppression of the piracy threat. Bolstering the effectiveness of the rule of law throughout affected areas was also seen as being of key importance in assisting with regional political stability.

Hargeysa Secure Hotel and Compound - Courtesy of David Hammond

Hargeysa Secure Hotel and Compound – Courtesy of David Hammond


• What are, therefore, the main differences in the mandates of EUCAP Nestor and EUNAVFOR and how these coordinate their respective activities?

NESTOR, as described, focuses on the imparting of expert constabulary, judicial, coastguard and logistical knowledge by Member State subject matter experts through training courses. This is separate to, but compliments the military presence provided for by EUNAVFOR alongside the on-going initiatives led by the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa.

• What is the current status of EUCAP Nestor deployment and what will be its overall structure and geographic area of operation?

I understand that at the moment staff are currently deployed to three countries: Djibouti (Mission Headquarters), the Republic of the Seychelles and Kenya. They will operate in those countries, plus Somalia and which will be the main focus. Tanzania has been asked to participate but so far has not invited the mission to carry out work there. The mission is mandated to run for 2 years commencing from 16 Jul 2012 and is headed up by Jacques Launay.

• What were the most challenging aspects in EUCAP Nestor set up and preliminary deployment process, given its geographic and thematic breadth?

The lasting memory I have in relation to the initial stages of the pre-deployment planning for the Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) and subsequent drafting of the Concept of Operations which led to the Operational plan (OPLAN), was the positive drive and collegiate Member State political will in Brussels to make the operation work. This meant significant and sustained drafting, revision and constant presentational updates to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) from what was a small team, as set against the enormity of the task which then faced us. This was undertaken in a structured, collegiate and team-focused manner with many long days and nights spent brain-storming the successive issues that arose. This was undertaken with significant levels of professionalism from selected Member State individuals who had previously never before worked together and this often required a ready sense of humour from all of us.

For my part, once deployed in the Horn of Africa, the issue of establishing a new rule of law and legal advisory programme sat with me due to the limited size of the team. The TAM ran for over one month in total and involved multiple visits to five States by all team members. There was continuous ‘hot’ planning, setting up of meetings on the sour of the moment and exploiting every opportunity to meet key in-country stakeholders. It was what I would call “quick and dirty planning and mission development” and which proved most successful.

The biggest challenge was, in my mind, to achieve local buy-in for our mission and its purpose. This meant that I needed to identify and seek out the key decision makers at every stage and convince them of the benefits of the EU mission and especially of the merits of the Legal Advisory Programme.

Meeting with Puntland Attorney General - Courtesy of David Hammond

Meeting with Puntland Attorney General – Courtesy of David Hammond

 

The most striking mission development work for the Legal Advisory Programme that I undertook, was in Somaliland and Puntland alongside the judicial and ministerial authorities. This included being present at piracy trials in the Garowe court and spending time in discussion with the Attorney General, before going on to meet with the Chief Justice and Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs for Puntland. The issue of extending the rule of law into the coastal areas, as well as support within the IDP camps for education in terms of women’s rights and humanitarian law was of particular note and interest for me. Subsequently, I was able to draft the individual programmes that would assist in some of those areas of articulated need and which was most gratifying. In Somaliland, the essence of the interactions were the same in terms of seeking out areas in which we could assist the authorities with the development of the rule of law through imparting knowledge via training and advisory roles.

• Current available data shows that piracy attacks in Somalia are diminishing. Is this the result of the international community efforts to combat piracy and what impact will this have on the continuation of such efforts, particularly the full implementation of EUCAP Nestor mandate? 

I am informed that the decrease in attacks is due to a variety of factors, including: EUNAVFOR’s ATALANTA operation and other naval operations, greater use of PSCs, greater use of best practices to avoid risks as well as improved information sharing. However, I am informed that this reduction is probably fragile and could be reversed without careful oversight. As such, the environment in which EUCAP NESTOR was envisaged to act has changed, but arguably there is now an even greater need for the mission as the success of reducing piracy at sea has opened the possibility of doing even more to create security and stability on land, which will provide the conditions for a lasting reduction in piracy.

David Hammond can be contacted at:

david.hammond@9bedfordrow.co.uk

http://www.9bedfordrow.co.uk/members/David_Hammond

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/davideuanhammond

Chinese Drones and Mekong Piracy

Naw Kham (first from right) and members of his gang hear the verdict of the first trial at the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court in Yunnan Province on November 6, 2012. Photo: CFP

There have been some interesting revelations in the case of Naw Kham, the so-called Mekong Pirate who presided over a transnational criminal network in the Golden Triangle of the Mekong river basin. (prior coverage here). Although Naw Kham was convicted of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking across international borders, this does not constitute piracy under UNCLOS as it did not occur on the high seas. Nonetheless, the case provides a fascinating case study in transnational organized crime and has important analogies to piracy on the high seas. Chinese media have focused on the operation to capture Naw Kham, whereas Western media have focused on the fact that China considered using an unmanned drone to kill him.

First the Chinese government-published Global Times provides details on how Naw Kham avoided capture by the Chinese in the Golden Triangle for so long.

During the search, Naw Kham vanished at least three times just as the Chinese police were closing in. [Taskforce leader] Liu said that this was largely because the Chinese police were limited in what they could do overseas. They had to launch appeals before undertaking operations and cooperate with local police.

But Naw Kham had lived in the Golden Triangle for many years and sometimes locals would aid him.

At the end of 2011, Chinese police located Naw Kham at a village by the Mekong River in Boqiao Province in Laos, the hometown of one of Naw Kham’s mistresses.

Chinese and local police encircled the village, but some local officials and villagers obstructed them. “We hit a stalemate. Police were not allowed to enter the village. Even though the local police head was with us, provincial officials were on the other side,” Liu said.

“The deadlock lasted hours, and it was getting dark. According to local customs, the search would have to be suspended after sunset.”

Liu finally found a senior military officer to help break the deadlock; however, police were only able to search six houses in the village and arrest the mistress and some gang members, seizing guns and cash. At night, Naw Kham crossed into Myanmar with the help of locals.

This highlights the fact that transnational criminality, and piracy in particular, will thrive where three conditions coexist: (1) lack of naval/police enforcement; (2) existence of water-borne commerce of significant value; and (3) poverty – motivating foot-soldiers to take extraordinary risks. In this case, the geography and multiple borders provided cross-jurisdictional cover for Naw Kham. Without strong international cooperation, he would not have been captured.

China’s unmanned Yi Long drone on display at the airshow in Zhuhai

In contrast, the New York Times have seized on the mention in the Global Times article that China had considered using an unarmed drone to kill Naw Kham.

Dennis M. Gormley, an expert on unmanned aircraft at the University of Pittsburgh, said of the reported Chinese deliberations, “Separating fact from fiction here is difficult.” But he added, “Given the gruesome nature of the 2011 killings  [for which Naw Kham was convicted] and the Chinese public’s outcry for action, it’s not at all surprising to imagine China employing an armed drone over Myanmar’s territory.”

Mr. Gormley said the decision not to carry out a drone strike might reflect a lack of confidence in untested Chinese craft, control systems or drone pilots. “I think China’s still not ready for prime time using armed drones, but they surely will be with a few more years of determined practice,” he said. “And they surely will have America’s armed drone practice as a convenient cover for legitimating their own practice.”

Similarly, the United States had considered using unmanned drones against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, but that program suffered setbacks and U.S. drones were likely only used to surveil pirate-operations off the coast of Somalia. Ultimately, China decided not to use its new assets. Indeed, capturing Naw Kham with no reported casualties and without the need to launch a military strike in Thailand, Laos, or Myanmar was a much cleaner solution.

Update – Le Ponant: Acquitted Somalis Obtain Compensation for Trial Detention

After their acquittal in June 2012, the two Somalis tried for the 2008 hijack of the luxury yacht Le Ponant have recently obtained financial compensation for their 4 year-long detention in France.

The two Somalis Acquitted of piracy on a subway in Paris - Le Monde

The two Somalis Acquitted of piracy on a subway in Paris – Le Monde

We have previously reported about Le Ponant trial here. Along with the 2 acquitted individuals, a third Somali was convicted to 4 years but released immediately after the verdict upon having served his sentence. We have also reported about their living conditions in France here (see also, similarly, here). In addition, 2 other accused were sentenced to 10 and 7 years of detention, respectively. We have made available the judgement in the case here. No appeal was launced by the prosecution or the defendants.

The compensation, among the first of its kind for individuals acquitted in piracy trials before various national courts of States engaged in anti-piracy acitivies off the coast of Somalia, includes 90.000 Euros each in moral damages and 3.000 and 5.000 euros each, respectively, for the loss of their salary as fishermen while in detention. The lawyers for the two Somalis have appealed the decision, seeking 450.000 Euros instead. Meanwhile, the Somalis continue to live in France, pending a decision on their request for asylum.