Piracy is not solved – EU Navfor Chief of Staff

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Although anti-piracy forces have had some success in 2011, all gains are reversible and piracy is not over, says the European Union Naval Force Chief of Staff Captain Phil Haslam.

Haslam was speaking at a press conference earlier this week that was hosted by the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) to give an update on Operation Atalanta and piracy off the Horn of Africa.
“Piracy is not over, the pirates’ intent is clear and they are as adaptive and agile as ever,” said Haslam. Piracy is not solved as long as the strategic conditions in Somalia do not change. “The anti-piracy forces have had some success in 2011, but all gains to date are reversible.”

The mandate for EU Navfor is the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia; the protection of African Union Mission on Somalia (AMISOM) shipping, the deterrence, prevention and disruption of acts of piracy and armed robbery and monitoring fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.

Countering piracy in the Indian Ocean is an international concern, having become a sophisticated criminal business exploiting the geographic feature of the Gulf of Aden and the Arabic Sea, the EU Navfor said on Monday. Every day 3 million barrels of oil and 50 per cent of the world’s container trade are at sea in this area constituting approximately US$1 trillion in trade. The cost of piracy is a strategic concern; an NGO has recently estimated the cost at US$7 billion per year, adding US$1.68 to every kilograms of trade moved in the High Risk Area.

Some of this cost is felt in ransom money. In 2010, 25 ransoms were paid, amounting to US$79.8 million, while US$146.2 million for 30 ransoms was paid last year and already US$9.4 million has been earned by pirates this year, making it a successful criminal endeavour for some.

However, the EU Navfor noted that in 2011 the previously observed seasonal increase of pirated vessels in the autumn has been broken. While in the first quarter of 2011 pirates took 19 ships, in the remaining 9 months, they only took 6 ships.

The reason for the reduction is industry adopting “Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy” (BMP) protective measures coupled with Private Armed Security Teams (PAST) embarking on merchant vessels and increased military presence and operations in the region.

The EU Navfor said that coordination between Operation Atalanta assets, NATO and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) greatly reduces pirate activity. “All forces are coordinated to disrupt piracy. The closest unit will react to a reported piracy attempt”, said NATO Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, Commodore Bruce Belliveau. In addition, independent national warships and maritime patrol aircraft from China, India, Japan, Russia and a number of others operate in the region to increase the overall counter-piracy capability.

Operation Commander Rear Admiral Duncan L Potts said that the EU Navfor is conducting a constabulary operation, which “restrains what we can do…EU Navfor does all it can to tip the risk-reward-balance for pirates but every action has also to be assessed with a look not only to legality but also to the impact on the wider region as well,” Potts said.

A significant focus is also looking at the conditions on land that allow piracy to flourish. The military deals only with the symptoms: “Root causes of piracy are the lack of governance that allows for impunity and funding by investors to equip pirates to go to sea” said Potts. In addition to humanitarian and development efforts towards eradicating the root causes of piracy, the European Union is planning for a new training mission in order to add to the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.

Regional Maritime Capacity Building (RMCB) would consist of two components addressing two main objectives: to strengthen the sea going maritime capacity of Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Seychelles and to train and equip the Coastal Police Force in the Somali regions of Puntland, Somaliland and Galmudug, as well as train and protect judges in the Somali region of Puntland.

Worldwide over 1 000 pirates, out of a community of approximately 3 000-5 000, have been prosecuted in 21 countries. Suspected pirates can be prosecuted by the flag states of attacked vessels, by regional states such as the Republic of Seychelles, Kenya or Mauritius to name but three, or any other third states which wish to exercise jurisdiction over the suspected pirates or armed robbers.

Only when those channels of prosecution are closed, does the EU Navfor and other anti-piracy forces consider releasing suspected pirates. Often the reason for releasing suspects is that there is no accuser. “The dhow community, which is often the victim with their crews held hostage and their ships being used as mother ships, does not wish to make a complaint when released, but go about their business and are unwilling to go to court therefore any case collapses at this stage”, said Haslam.

The EU Navfor said that on Wednesday, its combat support warship FGS Ber;om responded to a distress signal from a tanker that was under attack by suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The FGS Berlin immediately dispatched her two Seaking helicopters to the area. When the skiff had been relocated it was stopped and the suspect pirates immediately surrendered to the ship’s boarding team. The suspects have been transferred to FGS Berlin and further investigations are ongoing.