The United Nation’s top envoy for Somalia is calling for tough measures against pirates and their backers.
Addressing the second day of a two-day antipiracy conference in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, yesterday, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah also urged greater international commitment to stabilising the country that has had no effective national government since 1991.
Incidents of piracy have steadily increased in Somali and adjacent waters – including the Gulf of Yemen –since 2001 but ballooned to record numbers this year.
“This unprecedented rise in piracy is threatening the very freedom and safety of maritime trade routes, affecting not only Somalia and the region, but also a large percentage of world trade,” said Abdallah.
The Gulf of Aden is one of the world`s busiest shipping routes as it connects the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea to Europe and the Mediterranean via the Red Sea and Suez Canal. On average the waterway sees 20 000 ship movements a year.
A lack of law enforcement has seen pirates enjoy a “happy time” this year and Abdallah says they “may have collected over US$120 million dollars for this year, with total impunity,” he told 140 delegates from 45 countries, including ministers and ambassadors.
Western powers and others have deployed warships to the sea way but Agence France Presse says the warships have so far “been outwitted by the pirates in their speedboats”.
At least 17 ships and their crews are now being held to ransom by Somali pirates, including an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo vessel and a Saudi-owned super-tanker carrying two million barrels of crude oil.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden on Wednesday told the conference piracy “poses an enormous challenge to the international legal system”.
Technical experts discussed a document by the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to encourage countries in the region to detain, transfer and prosecute pirates.
The 1.3-million-dollar programme will boost the criminal justice and law enforcement systems of Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and Tanzania, over a six-month period to prepare them to try the pirates.
“If pirates are to be brought to justice, neighbouring states — where legal instruments… are already in place — must be engaged,” said the document.
AFP says Britain and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding on piracy cooperation on the sidelines of the conference while the European Union negotiated a larger deal.
The conference closed with a final declaration containing no groundbreaking new steps but recommending more support to establish an effective Somali coastguard and study common policies on discouraging ransom payments.
The conference paved the way for a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday which will examine the situation in Somalia and during which the United States is expected to ask for more flexible rules of engagement in anti-piracy operations – including sending troops ashore.
The UNODC document hinted that the government of the autonomous Somali region of Puntland had a hand in piracy, sparking the ire of the Puntland delegation which asked for the paragraph to be removed.
South Africa`s director general of foreign affairs Ayanda Ntsaluba this week said that SA “supports the efforts being taken on the Somalian waters”.
“SA has also been approached at some time to be part of, through our Navy, opening up a humanitarian corridor. SA is considering this but SA`s view has always been and we are therefore happy that the UN is taking this up, that we needed to ensure that the entire question of the creation of a humanitarian corridor in Somalia as well as any interventions around the question of piracy should really be done around the auspices of a very well thought out UN resolution largely because we know from past experience that there are different points of emphasis and the international community has different slants on how to deal with the question of Somalia and it has always been our view that it would be in the interests of the integrity of an intervention in Somalia if this were to be done under a very well thought out UN resolution and to the extent that this exists, yes, SA supports this,” Ntsaluba said according to a Department of Foreign Affairs transcript of the meeting.
“I am unaware that South Africa has necessarily directly been approached on the anti-piracy side but I know that South Africa has been approached largely to assist with the creation of a humanitarian corridor and that is what South Africa is considering.”