Governments have ceded control of the Indian Ocean to pirates


Governments have ceded control of the Indian Ocean to pirates and the small deployment of naval forces to the region is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) chairman Spyros M Polemis says.

And in a damning indictment of western governments, Polemis has controversially suggested they would be acting differently if the many seafarers held hostage off the coast of Somalia were “Americans or Europeans”, the Ports and Ships website reports.

Speaking at the Maritime Cyprus conference in Limassol yesterday, Polemis told shipping professionals: “The fundamental problem is the lack of navy ships that are committed to protecting shipping – a band aid on a gaping wound, although the navies do an excellent job under the circumstances and we commend them for this.”

In a straight-talking speech Polemis told delegates that “by their own admission, the military advise that no ship is completely safe”. He said, “Sadly, one can only conclude from the current response of many governments that those thousands of seafarers that have so far been captured have simply had the wrong nationality. If they were all Americans or Europeans, the governments’ attitude might have been somewhat different. It is really unacceptable that so many governments seem to feel that the current situation can somehow be tolerated, and that a box has been ticked by making a relatively small number of navy ships available to police Somalia’s waters and the entire Indian Ocean.”

Apologising for his ‘depressing’ remarks he concluded with, “We appreciate that governments have many competing priorities, but I am afraid that they still seem to be lacking a coherent strategy to tackle the pirates head on.”

While acknowledging that adherence to Best Management Practices and the use of private armed guards can both reduce the risks of capture, Mr Polemis said that the escalating use of armed guards represents a failure by the international community to find an effective solution to the situation and called for an increase in military force deployed to the Indian Ocean.
“I do wish to stress that, despite acknowledging their use, private armed guards do not represent a long term solution. Rather, their use actually signifies a failure on the part of the international community – and those governments with significant military forces – to ensure the security of maritime trade on which the whole world depends. Governments don’t like it when we say this, but the reality is that they have ceded control of the Indian Ocean to the pirates.
“The use of private guards does not mean that military forces are no longer needed. Far from it – they are needed more than ever and should be greatly increased in number.”

The ICS says it remains in close contact with both EUNAVFOR and NATO discussing practical solutions to the problems in the Indian Ocean including a possible blockade of the Somali coast and tackling pirate ‘motherships’. ICS is also in discussion with Flag States to ensure they take a coherent pan-industry approach to producing a proper framework for the use of armed guards.

The ICS and the International Shipping Federation (ISF) are the principal international trade association and employers’ organisation for shipowners, with member national associations from 36 countries representing all sectors and trades and over 80% of the world merchant fleet.