Sisulu calls for SADC action against pirates

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South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu says the fight against piracy in African waters needs to move from discussion to action. Addressing a Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting on a regional anti-piracy strategy, she added that the scourge was a modern barbarism that was causing immeasurable harm.

“We meet to discuss a matter that has been a recurring feature of our agenda since 1995, she told delegates in a keynote address ahead of a three-day meeting of SADC’s Defence and Security Council (DSC) as well as its Senior Staff Council (SSC) at the Velmore Hotel in Erasmia, Pretoria. The meeting ends tomorrow.
“Hopefully this time, we will be meeting to deal with it with some resolve, so that we can remove it from our discussion agenda and place it on our operations agenda, where it should be,” Sisulu said.

Cabinet mandated the South African Department of Defence in February to develop a maritime security strategy following an incident of piracy in Mozambican waters in December. The strategy was approved by Cabinet last month. The Joint Operations Division of the South African National Defence Force deployed a frigate, air assets and Special Forces to Mozambique in March to conduct patrols and gather intelligence as part of Operation Copper.
“The matter of piracy is a scourge of our unfortunate history and a number of developments that have conspired to make this potentially one of the most serious problems for our economies for some time,” Sisulu told her audience. “These criminals use extremely high powered weapons and forcefully board a ship to take it over. … Many times they murder, take hostages, or do whatever is necessary to accomplish their mission.
“The impact of piracy on the global economy is easy to appreciate,” Sisulu added. “Approximately 80% of world trade currently travels by sea, representing around 93 000 merchant vessels, 1.25 million seafarers, and almost six billion tons of cargo, a high percentage of it flammable. … However, calculating the cost of piracy is notoriously difficult. Estimates from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is that piracy cost between US$1 and US$16 billion per year.
“The direct financial costs of piracy are varied and interconnected; they include ransoms, insurance premiums, the cost of re-routing to avoid piracy-prone regions, deterrent security equipment, naval forces, piracy prosecutions, and anti-piracy organisations. Ransoms are generally sought by Somali pirates. … In November 2010, the highest ransom on record, US$9.5 million, was paid to Somali pirates to release the Samho Dream, a South Korean oil tanker. … The ransom demonstrated the exponential increase in the price of ransoms in recent years. In 2005, ransoms averaged around US$150 000.15 By 2009, the average ransom was around US$3.4 million,” the minister said.
“The total cost of ransom is estimated to be around double the value actually paid to pirates. The total cost is duplicated by a number of factors, such as the cost of negotiations, repair to ship damage caused while it is held captive, and the physical delivery of the ransom money, often done by helicopter or private plane. Finally, large costs result from ships being held and out of service. For instance, it costs around US$3 million for a cargo ship to be held for two months at a charter hire rate of US$50,000 per day. Costs of ransoms for the year 2009 to 2010 came to US$415 million,” Sisulu told the SADC defence and intelligence chiefs.
“The increase in pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa is directly linked to continuing insecurity and the absence of the rule of law in war-torn Somalia. The absence of a functioning central government there provides freedom of action for pirates and remains the single greatest challenge to regional security. However, this is only the face value of the problem. … By doubling the cost above for the estimated cost of ransoms for 2009 and 2010 (US$415 million) to incorporate excess costs such as negotiation and delivery fees, we approximate that over the past two years, around $830 million has been spent on ransoms in Somalia alone. This is greater than the budgets of countries assembled here. The cost of excess insurance premiums from transitting around the Horn of Africa is between US$459 million to US$3 213 million.

Turning to to the impact of piracy on Africa itself, she added the continent’s seaborne trade in 1998 reached 718 million tons and contributed 45% of the region’s GDP. “In 2008, Africa’s seaborne trade constituted 91% of the total trade within the continent by volume. Africa has significant challenges relating to transport infrastructure connecting the different states, such is the relic of colonial governance. Africa has to contend with this historical problem of very poor infrastructure between states at present. The African Union has been very concerned about this and has established a commission to help craft a solution to Africa’s infrastructure problems. Air transport, on the other hand, remains limited and very costly. In the meantime, the sea remain our major trading route amongst ourselves. …
“Additionally, Africa’s fishing ground provides the single most important source of protein to the majority of her citizens. The protection of these marine resources – one of the most natural resources for our people – remains our priority. It is estimated that Africa’s fishing industry earns the continent around US$10 billion annually through internal trade, global exports and fishing licenses to foreign operators. This is apart from fish products being a primary source of food for a significant number of African citizens. Illegal, Uncontrolled and Unreported [IUU] fishing therefore can have dire social and economic consequences. … A number of nations have also indicated that their fishing sector has declined in response to the threat of piracy.”

Sisulu noted the African coastline has an approximate length of 31 000 kilometres, 18 000 of which lies within the sub-Saharan region. “Capacity to protect this cost-line depends on a small fleet of patrol vessels and warships, mainly from South Africa. There is a lack of regional capability to perform “deep sea” patrols, including the Exclusive Economic Zone. Furthermore, lack of an integrated Maritime Strategy at a regional level doesn’t help in alleviating the impact.
“Effective trading is crucial for economic development. For us, trading is dependent on effective sea transportation. Successful shipping requires protection of sea lines of communication, and securing of sea-ports. Many countries have gone to great lengths to stop this act of barbarism. … Over 27 countries currently contribute naval forces towards piracy deterrence. Most military and naval attention is devoted to the Horn of Africa, where “the big three” anti-piracy missions are focused: Operation Atlanta, Operation Ocean Shield, and Combined Task Force 151. The three military efforts make up over 43 vessels operating off the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
“It is approximated that the costs of these military vessels to be around US$1.3 billion per year. Adding in the administrative budgets of the three major missions, along with additional independent expenditures from other nations, the estimation comes to US$2 billion being spent on military operations in the region every year.
“Piracy affects the cost of trade not merely because particular ships are intercepted when delivering goods. Further, as regions are increasingly regarded as threatened by piracy, unstable, or volatile, entire trading routes are altered, insurance premiums increase, cargo shippers use alternative ports to pick up and deliver their goods, and so forth. A number of nations have also indicated that their fishing sector has declined in response to the threat of piracy. Given the instability and volatility of regions affected by piracy, foreign investors may look for alternative regions to invest in, or spend their money.

Let me then give you a glimpse of why we as South Africa have become so concerned. …South Africa is a maritime nation. With more than ninety percent of its trade as seaborne, South Africa is dramatically dependent on the maritime transport industry,” Sisulu avered. “Six million tons of oil are transported around South Africa’s western coastline every month, which makes this a prime target for pirates. This is the reason why South Africa is such a high valued gem, and should take the necessary action to prevent this from occurring. If pirates move into South African trade routes, it will cause a detrimental reaction against many economies.
“Inevitably, pirates are emboldened by the lack of credible deterrence to their activities, the latter a consequence of dysfunctional states or even state failure. The challenge we have is that there can be no political agreements with pirates, except to political problems that spawn piracy. … We have subsequently defined maritime security as a threat to the region. A military strategy, which would address operational and funding requirements to deal with piracy is currently under consideration.
 
“We knew a raw nerve had been struck when our economic sustainability interests as a region were threatened when a Mozambican registered vessel was hijacked in December 2010 – and a Liberian registered merchant vessel in January 2011. These were the first incidents of this nature in southern Africa and reflected the extent to which pirates have increased their range towards southern Africa waters. Our immediate response was a careful consideration of the implications of such an incident for southern Africa, and South Africa in particular – whose major deep water harbours, Durban and Richards Bay are located within close proximity to the Mozambican Channel – the body of water between Mozambique and Madagascar, which carries 30% of the world’s oil supplies and 98% of South Africa’s maritime traffic. The channel is increasingly becoming vulnerable – and such vulnerability is not exaggerated.
“We believe we all share in this vulnerability, as piracy is now in our waters,” Sisulu said. “Our assessment is that Southern African waters are increasingly becoming an attractive alternative to Somali pirates as they try to avoid the clamp-down of various maritime task forces around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden – purely by moving into largely unprotected parts of the Indian Ocean. At the same time SADC waters have also become an alternative route for companies wishing to avoid piracy around the horn of Africa by taking the longer and more hazardous route via the Cape of Good Hope.
“As SADC’s coastal area do not fall within patrol areas of the international anti-pirate forces, SADC will have to take responsibility for its own maritime security. This is why we are here today.

Piracy undoubtedly constitutes a serious challenge to the development and stability of SADC member states, given the importance of the region’s international seaborne trade and its vital contribution to regional food-stocks and economic development. … SADC therefore has both an international and regional responsibility to help promote good order at sea.

Maritime security is a regional concern to all SADC member states,” Sisulu avered. “Both SADC coastal states and SADC land-locked states are equally dependent on maritime trade.” Landlocked states, she noted, import goods via regional harbours. “However, with a significant decrease in commercial ships visiting such ports due to piracy, imports are becoming more expensive since ports further south often have to be used.
“Piracy also targets hydrocarbons and natural gas exploration and drilling at sea. There [have been] instances where vessels carrying gas to Indian Ocean island states have been hijacked and which has significantly impacted on the supply of gas in some areas for periods of up to six months at a time. Furthermore, tourism, including visits by ocean liners, is a major income earner. “The tourism industry on Indian Ocean Island States has been severely affected by piracy, in some instance by a 30% decline in tourism revenue,” the minister said.
“Clearly we cannot allow this situation. Clearly there is a need for a policy to combat piracy in SADC waters and to safe-guard the economies of the many landlocked countries.
“Piracy on the eastern Coast of Africa will not be stopped unless the root-causes of insecurity in Somalia are addressed. This insecurity exists due to the weakness of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia and its inability to exert its national authority in creating stability, as well as enforcing law and order on land and sea. Stability is a prerequisite for growth and development, which should enable better economic opportunities and alternative livelihoods to the growing ‘industry’ of piracy. SADC should engage the AU to consider decentralised initiatives for promoting, peace, security and development in Puntland and Somaliland, especially since the TFG is struggling to make headway on these matters from its capital – Mogadishu.
“The recommendations of the Troika Assessment Team and its Draft Action Plan should be seriously considered in formulating a Regional Anti-piracy Strategy for SADC, since it highlights the importance of capacity-building, legal and judicial instruments, implementation, cooperation, sharing of information and intelligence – on all relevant levels. 
“One of the critical success factors to combat piracy is quality intelligence. Improved intelligence will assist SADC maritime forces to stop pirate activities and movements. SADC must therefore obtain intelligence that will be able to assist in building the SADC Common Operating Picture.
“SADC’s Maritime Strategy must entail a regional partnership with all member states contributing within their means. Not all member states necessarily have the essential maritime and military capabilities, but they may still contribute in other ways. Some countries may for example provide land-based equipment such as radars, as well as soldiers to patrol coastlines and islands.
“SADC must establish robust Rules of Engagement (ROE) for ant-piracy, which should be largely consistent with the ROE of other regions and task forces. With regard to the legal framework, SADC member states should ratify or accede to international maritime conventions/treaties/ regimes and the incorporation of these into their national law. SADC Member States should seek to put in place comprehensive legal regimes at national level, consistent with international law, to prosecute pirates.
“The current practice of “catch-and-release” of pirates should be stopped, since it allows experienced pirates to execute more sophisticated acts of piracy. Therefore SADC should strengthen and harmonise regional and domestic legal frameworks for arrest, awaiting trial detention, prosecution and imprisonment or repatriation of pirates.
“SADC will have to take responsibility for its own maritime security in cooperation with other regions, task forces, navies and role-players.  This is our responsibility.  This is our reason for being.”