More needs to be done to combat piracy: Denmark

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Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Lene Espersen says more needs to be done to combat piracy. She was speaking after a meeting of an international working group under the auspices of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in Copenhagen last week.

Espersen in a media release said international action needed to be more comprehensive and concerted. “However – let’s be honest – there is still room for improvement in our joint efforts,” she said. “Piracy cannot be condemned too strongly. Piracy is a breach of the most fundamental principles of the modern civilisation. In the worst hit areas off the Horn of Africa, no seafarers – be it on a merchant ship or even a yacht – can be safe at sea.” She also noted the Danish Government recently published presented a comprehensive piracy strategy for Denmark, encompassing political, military, legal and capacity building measures.

The strategy document notes piracy is a global challenge. “For a maritime nation like Denmark, who [sic] handles about 10% of global maritime shipping measured by value, the problem is felt clearly. Countering piracy is therefore a high priority for the Danish Government”, the document, drafted by the Danish ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice as well as Economic and Business Affairs, avers.

“The overall goal of the Danish efforts to combat piracy is to contribute to making the waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean safe and navigable for Danish and international maritime shipping. For a long time Denmark has been making a considerable military, political, legal and financial contribution towards the international community’s fight against piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa. With this strategy, the comprehensive Danish counter-piracy efforts will be placed into a single political framework with the aim of strengthening coordination, consistency and coherence between many aspects of the Danish efforts.”

The underlying motivation for piracy activities is financial gain, the strategy document said. “On this basis it is assessed that there are no political interests behind the piracy. Instead, piracy has developed into an actual industry in which a number of local suppliers have strong vested interests. Money from ransoms is used in the local area, and local suppliers and sub-suppliers are included into the economic interests. It is also understood that money laundering takes place through investments in Nairobi, Dubai, Europe and the United States. This means that an increasing number of people have financial interests in piracy and therefore no wish for it to stop.”

The strategy document adds that between 20 and 40 naval vessels are now continuously deployed to the waters threatened by piracy, “which now cover a geographical area greater than Western Europe. Although the international efforts have impeded piracy activities remarkably, it remains very difficult to cover effectively such a large area with the resources currently available. This highlights the need for a continued, strengthened international focus on counter-piracy cooperation. However, the international community must also contemplate whether more money for the naval effort is the best way to apply resources, and whether the problem should be approached with new means. …
“Currently, the international naval forces can take part in preventing hijackings, detain presumed pirates and dispose of equipment used for piracy, including the fast going vessels used for piracy attacks, as well as the motherships, from which the pirates now increasingly operate. The international naval forces do not, however, have the possibility of engaging the pirates once the pirates set foot on land. This means that it is possible to destroy piracy equipment at sea, but not on land. In the public debate, it has been proposed to also combat the pirates on land.
“A more robust mandate for the international effort could be considered, if the need arises, including the possibility of targeting piracy equipment and installations on land close to the Somali coastline. Should that be the case, piracy equipment and installations could be destroyed with the use of precision-guided bombs. Where this is not possible – and in very special cases – the deployment of special forces could be considered. Such new initiatives are, however, both risky and costly and should be considered very carefully prior to any decision possibly being made,” the strategy document says.

Discussing various ways of protecting merchant ships at sea, the document notes it “is the opinion of the Danish Gov­ernment that it would create an unde­sirable precedent, if Danish soldiers were to provide military protection for Danish ships. Denmark has a general interest in avoiding contributing to a potential international tendency for the various military forces to concentrate their resources on protecting their own national ships rather than cooperating for a more proactive and coordinated counter-piracy effort. It will not serve long-term Danish interests if national protection tasks are performed at the expense of international cooperation. Furthermore, the use of military guards is not assessed to be a cost-effective application of sparse military resources. On these grounds, it is the position of the Danish Government that the option of using military guards onboard Danish ships should not be pursued.”



The Danes are also cool on the use of armed civilian guards. “This position has primarily been based on a principled reluctance to grant civilian guards the permission to use weapons for self-defence purposes, but also in concern that the use of armed civilian guards onboard Danish ships could contribute to a further escalation in the methods used by pirates when hijacking ships.
“The expansion of the pirates’ operational radius, however, means that it has become more difficult for the international naval forces to concentrate their efforts in the areas where pirate attacks take place. The shipping industry has therefore wished to have the possibility of using armed civilian guards in special cases to protect the ship and its crew against pirate attacks. On this background and following consultations with the industry, the Danish Government has decided to adopt a more open approach to the use of armed civilian guards, so that it will no longer – as it has previously been the case – be necessary to substantiate a specific and extraordinary threat against the ship in question. Based on an application, the shipping companies therefore now have the possibility of obtaining a firearms certificate for using armed guards on board Danish ships, provided that the general threat assessment for the area is perceived to require this, and as long as the specifics of the case, also in terms of compliance with Best Management Practices, do not otherwise speak against it. This is not a long-term solution to the piracy problem, but it has turned out that the use of armed guards at this time provides efficient protection against pirate attacks.
“If the use of armed civilian guards on merchant ships becomes more widespread, the need to establish international guidelines for the guards’ conduct etc. may arise. Such guidelines could contribute to, among other things, avoiding incidents where armed guards contribute to an escalation of the situation causing danger for the ship and crew as a consequence. International guidelines might also contribute to facilitating the process for civilian security companies of obtaining the necessary permits outside Denmark.”