Piracy Contact Group adopts plan of action

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) is to is to establish a counter-piracy coordination centre among a raft of measures to fight an ancient scourge that last year became a significant hazard to shipping and global commerce for the first time since the defeat of the Barbary pirates over two hundred years ago.
The centre, to be established near Somali waters “will coordinate information relevant to piracy and armed robbery at sea … as soon as possible…”
Pending its establishment, interim arrangements are being put in place.
“The CGPCS asks participating states, international and regional organisations to support both the interim and follow-on facilities, the ad hoc grouping said in a media release after their inaugural meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday.   
The United Nations says there were 115 reported pirate attacks off the Somali coast in 2008, including 46 successful hijackings, mostly in the Gulf of Aden that links the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
About 20 000 oil tankers, freighters and merchant vessels pass along the crucial shipping highway that links Europe to the Middle East and Asia.  
The meeting comes as British naval officers testify in the trial of eight suspected Somali pirates in Kenya. A ship`s party from HMS Cumberland handed them over to Kenyan authorities last November after a gunfight that left two pirates dead.
Attending were representatives from Australia, China, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, The Netherlands, Oman, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia TFG, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Yemen, as well as the African Union, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the UN Secretariat, and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Information as key
The group says it is agreed that “better operational information is needed in order to address the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia” and it therefore calls on UN member states “to contribute additional operational information and surveillance assets to the region.”
The body also says they recognise the importance of apprehending and prosecuting suspected pirates. “The CGPCS calls on state parties to implement their obligations under relevant treaties and applicable international law, including in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea with respect to suppressing piracy, establishing jurisdiction, and accepting delivery of suspected pirates, and to discuss, as appropriate, the applicability of other international instruments including the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (“SUA Convention”), and the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.
For this reason the group undertook to “examine practical options for strengthening the ability of countries willing to detain and prosecute suspected pirates”.
It will also examine options for developing other mechanisms to address piracy, including international judicial mechanisms.
“The Group welcomes the efforts of states, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Development Program to build judicial capacity and commends the government of Kenya in particular for supporting the prosecution of suspected pirates.
“The … Group … notes the work of the maritime shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish measures to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery for commercial vessels transiting the region.
“Of note is the adoption by the world`s leading shipping, cargo, and insurance organisations of a set of common best management practices which were based on recommendations by the EU`s Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA).
“The CGPCS will continue to work with the IMO, shipping industry representatives, and shipping companies to increase the distribution and voluntary employment of best practices and threat information,” the release by the US State Department added.
“The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia reaffirms its respect for Somalia`s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and sovereign rights over natural resources, and its participants ensure that their flagged vessels respect these rights.
In that regard they condemned the prevalence of illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping off the coast of Somalia, “which adversely affects the Somali economy and marine environment”. As such, the group says “piracy issues must be kept in mind as one element of a larger challenge, and international support for initiatives such as the international Contact Group on Somalia must be encouraged as well as support for the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. The CGPCS considers its activities as part of wider international efforts to secure peace and stability in Somalia”.
CGPCS membership is open to “any nation or international organisation making a tangible contribution to the counter-piracy effort, or any country significantly affected by piracy off the coast of Somalia”. As such, the group extended invitations to Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the Arab League at its meeting.
Focus areas
The meeting identified six related focus areas for its work:
·         improving operational and information support to counter-piracy operations,
·         establishing a counter-piracy coordination mechanism,
·         strengthening judicial frameworks for arrest, prosecution and detention of pirates,
·         strengthening commercial shipping self-awareness and other capabilities,
·         pursuing improved diplomatic and public information efforts, and
·         tracking financial flows related to piracy.
The participants further agreed to establish four working groups in which all CGPCS members can participate to address these focus areas.
Working Group 1 will address activities related to military and operational coordination and information sharing and the establishment of the regional coordination centre, and will be convened by the United Kingdom with the support of the International Maritime Organization.
Denmark will convene Working Group 2 to address judicial aspects of piracy with the support of UNODC.
The United States agreed to convene Working Group 3 to strengthen shipping self-awareness and other capabilities, with the support of IMO.
Egypt agreed to convene Working Group 4 to improve diplomatic and public information efforts on all aspects of piracy.
The CGPCS also called on international bodies that track illicit financial flows to examine such flows to and from pirates and report this “as appropriate” to the CGPCS and other groups concerned with the issue.
The group lastly also agreed to establish a small Secretariat to support and publicise its activities. Its next meeting is in March. 
Har, me harties!
CNN meanwhile reports pirates on Tuesday released a Turkish-flagged ship carrying 4500 tons of chemicals that was seized two months ago off Yemen’s coast.
The IMO International Maritime Bureau that tracks piracy attacks says the Karagol was hijacked on 12 November near Yemen on its way to Mumbai, India.
The crew was safe, and the vessel was en route to India with the chemicals, said IMB spokesman Cyrus Mody.
Pirates also released the African Sanderling on Monday, Mody said. That ship was reportedly seized in mid-October. Mody had no further details.
The Saudi-owned Sirius Star, the largest ship ever hijacked by pirates, was let go Saturday after being held for two months. A US$3.5 million ransom payment — down from the initial demand of US$25 million — was dropped by parachute from a small airplane onto the very large crude carrier filled with two million barrels of oil on Friday, but the pirates delayed release of the vessel after five of their group drowned while departing in a skiff.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula on Monday condemned the payment of the ransom and insisted his country would not pay to free a Ukrainian ship carrying weapons to Kenya.
“I wish to register our displeasure on the payment of ransom last week where the oil tanker was released,” he was quoted saying by AFP.
“Paying encourages criminal acts and we do not support such initiatives,” Wetangula told reporters.
AFP adds the pirates who held the Saudi tanker are from the same clan as those who still hold the MV Faina, a Ukrainian freighter owned by an Israeli businessman that is carrying 33 T72 main battle tanks and tons of ammunition.
The ship’s cargo sparked controversy. Kenya said it was the intended recipient of the weapons, but several other sources said the cargo was in fact destined for the forces of South Sudan.
“As you are aware, our cargo in the MV Faina is still in the hands of pirates. However long it takes, Kenya is not willing to pay ransom and will not pay any ransom,” Wetangula said.
“It is not perishable cargo, those guys can keep those tanks and weapons on that ship as long as they wish. We will not pay ransom we will eventually get them. I have no doubt,” he said.
The Faina’s captain, Vladimir Nikolsky, told AFP in a phone interview that efforts through middlemen to negotiate the ship’s release had so far failed due to a lack of determination to release the crew safely.
Nikolsky and an intermediary for the pirates demanded that the ship’s owner, Israeli national Vadim Alperin, enter into direct talks with the pirates.
Reuters reports the IMB as saying the following ships are still in pirate hands:
·         FAINA: Seized Sept. 24. The ship was carrying 33 T-72 tanks, grenade launchers and ammunition destined for Kenya’s Mombasa port. Pirates have demanded US$20 million in ransom.
·         STOLT STRENGTH: Seized Nov. 10. The chemical tanker had 23 Filipino crew aboard. It was carrying 23 818 tonnes of oil products.
·         TIANYU 8: Seized Nov. 13/14. The Chinese fishing boat was reported seized off Kenya. The crew included 15 Chinese, one Taiwanese, one Japanese, three Filipinos and four Vietnamese.
·         CHEMSTAR VENUS: Seized Nov. 15. The tanker was travelling from Dumai, Indonesia, to Ukraine. It had 18 Filipino and five South Korean crew.
·         BISCAGLIA: Seized on Nov. 28. The Biscaglia, a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker, had 30 crew on board: 25 Indians, three Britons and two Bangladeshis.
·         NAMES UKNOWN: Seized on Dec. 10. Pirates hijacked two Yemeni fishing vessels with a total of 22 crew in coastal waters in the Gulf of Aden. Five crew reportedly escaped.
·         NAMES UNKNOWN: Seized on Dec. 16. A yacht with two on board, an Indonesian tugboat used by French oil company Total and a 100-metre (330-ft) cargo ship belonging to an Istanbul-based shipping company were hijacked. Pirates also hijacked the Chinese fishing vessel Zhenhua-4 with 30 Chinese crew aboard but it was freed the next day.
·         BLUE STAR: Seized on Jan. 1, 2009. The Egyptian merchant ship was sailing east with a cargo of 6,000 tonnes of urea, a product used as a fertiliser. It had 28 Egyptian crew aboard.