UN agency proposes anti-piracy plan

Somalia’s neighbours must do more to arrest and prosecute ever-more brazen pirates, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says.
The agency has announced a US$1.3-million programme to boost the criminal justice and law enforcement systems of Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and Tanzania over the next six-months to prepare them to try and punish pirates.
The announcement was made on the first day of a two day conference in Nairobi, hosted by the UN and Kenya, to find ways and means to fight pirates in the Gulf of Aden and off East Africa.
The world`s merchant marine makes up to 20 000 passages through the Gulf of Aden and adjacent Red Sea and Suez Canal annually and this year attacks on ships have ballooned to well over 100, with about 40 hijacked and held for ransom with their crews.    
“In order to ensure that alleged pirates are brought to justice, it is important, in the short term, to increase the capacities of countries in the region to facilitate effective arrests at sea, the legal transfer of suspects, and investigation and prosecution of the crimes in jurisdictions that have the legislative and operational capacity to deal with them,” the UNODC explains in a document tabled in Nairobi.
Agence France Press reports that technical experts from some 40 countries, as well as UN agencies, shipping companies and risk management consultancies discussed methods of dealing with the crisis yesterday ahead of a ministerial level conference today.
The Associated Press meanwhile reports that German official say Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet has approved a plan to contribute one warship and up to 1400 troops to the European Union naval force (EUNAVFOR) anti-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta.
Atalanta is a 12-month endeavour that started Tuesday to deter and prevent piracy off Somalia.
The British Telegraph newspaper says Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy commissioner Javier Solana has confirmed that the force will operate under “robust rules of engagement” but did not say whether this included the mandate to board seized ships or free kidnapped crews.
Bloomberg notes the EU`s naval force will average six warships and three maritime patrol aircraft (MPA).
Force commander British Rear Admiral Philip Jones says frigates from Britain, France and Greece are already in place, soon to be joined by German and Italian gunboats. French and Spanish MPA are at the French military base in Djibouti.
Indian and Russian naval patrols in the area are unlikely to join the mission, though they will coordinate their activities with the EU fleet, Jones says.
“We have the right to use proportional force,” Jones added. “At every stage of engagement, I have very clear rules that allow us to act in a determined way.”
He further said decisions on what to do with captured pirates will be taken on a case-by-case basis. In recent months, pirates have been turned over to Kenyan, Yemeni and Somali authorities. France is the only country that has taken them to Europe to stand trial.
Bloomberg says Jones will run the operation from Northwood, near London, while the ships and planes will use Djibouti as their base. The on-scene fleet commander will be Greek Rear Admiral Antonios Papaioannou, who will be replaced after four months by a Spaniard and then by a Dutch officer.
One EU warship at a time will escort World Food Program ships to Somalia, where a third of the population lives off aid. The rest will be deployed where needed, Jones said. The EU force will place armed marines aboard the escorted WFP ships.
A naval force can never eradicate piracy, Jones said, which can only be done on-land by a stable government, which Somalia hasn`t had since 1991.
“The area is so large we could have hundreds of ships and still there would be gaps in our surveillance,” he said. “A naval force in itself can`t completely suppress piracy. There are many elements that lead to piracy, and we can only deal with one part of the problem.”
Legal framework
AFP says the fight against piracy has thus far been hampered by the lack of legal frameworks.
“For warships, repatriating pirates is not simple,” said an unnamed British enforcement expert at the conference. “The most attractive option is to transfer them to coastal states.”
AFP says pirates organised in six separate groups and numbering as many as 1500 have raked in tens of millions of dollars in ransom money, sums which outweigh the total budget of the northern breakaway state of Puntland, where much of Somalia’s piracy originates.
Experts at the conference said lessons could be learnt from successful anti-piracy strategies elsewhere. The British military expert advocated “the use of greater law enforcement cooperation”.
“This model was very successful in the Caribbean…. We can have security personnel from the coastal countries on board the navy ships, it removes the repatriation problem, it removes a number of legal problems,” he said.
There are a number of treaties and conventions regulating the world’s seas but Somalia is party to none of them. “If pirates are to be brought to justice, neighbouring states — where legal instruments… are already in place — must be engaged,” said the document proposed by UNODC.
“This has been demonstrated most convincingly in the Straits of Malacca,” it said, adding that Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand had cooperated to virtually eradicate piracy in a vital shipping lane.
Among the many recommendations being discussed in Nairobi are operations specifically targeting the so-called “mother ships”. There are at least five pirate mother ships — generally hijacked fishing boats under foreign flags — which tow the speedboats, from which pirates armed with rifles, rocket propelled grenades and grapnels attack their targets.
According to the Puntland authorities and experts, there are up to 700 foreign boats fishing illegally in Somali waters at a given time, plundering an estimated 300 million dollars a year in resources.
“If you take them away, the mother ships will have nowhere to hide,” said one expert, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some participants argued that the cost the EU’s naval force – estimated at €250 million – equalled the amount the European body spent on aid on Somalia and could be best spent on rebuilding Somalia’s institutions and creating alternative livelihoods.
Meanwhile, Voice of America reports that Andrew Mwangura, an official with the East African Seafarers’ Association, is warning that the international effort will have little lasting impact without involving Somalis. “If you are not going to involve the local community, it cannot achieve anything,” he said.

Mwangura says a strategy to combat piracy needs to be part of a coordinated effort against other illicit activities in the region.
“If we want to stop piracy we need to fight all illegal activities in this region, because they are connected. Let us say piracy is connected to toxic dumping. Toxic dumping is connected to drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is connected to gun running. Those mafia-like businessmen are part of piracy, they do control pirate groups in Somalia. The real pirates are outside Somalia. In fact they do not go out to sea. Some of them are based in Nairobi, some are in Dubai,” says Mwangura.

Commentators say Somali fishermen turned piracy after 2001 to deter illegal foreign fishing in Somali waters as well as the dumping of toxic waste along the countries shores.
A new US initiative
The EUNAVFOR is operating under a UN Security Council resolution made on 2 December giving international naval forces the right to use “all necessary means to suppress piracy,” both in Somali and international waters, and to destroy the pirates` ships and weapons.
The EU will not operate on Somali soil. However, the AP reports the US will next week Tuesday propose a new resolution that will allow UN members to take with the permission of Somalia`s provisional government, for a year “all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea and to otherwise prevent those activities.”
The AP says international forces have fared poorly in the past trying to help Somalia, whose latest government was formed in 2004 with the help of the UN and is backed by Ethiopia. The country has been without an effective government for nearly 20 years.
The US sent troops in 1993 to back a massive UN relief operation for thousands of civilians left starving by fighting. But the US attacked the home of a warlord, killing scores of civilians including women and children.
Somali militiamen retaliated, bringing down two US Black Hawk helicopters and killing 18 American servicemen whose bodies were dragged through the streets. That experience precipitating the US withdrawal was portrayed in the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down.”
Ethiopian troops, the region’s strongest force, have been regularly attacked since arriving two years ago. They largely have been confined to urban bases, as have the 2600 African Union peacekeepers sent as part of an approved 8000-member AU mission.
Reuters reports Ethiopia plans to withdraw its last troops by the end of this month. The report also puts the AU force at 3200. AFP says the AMISOM force numbers 3400 and that at least nine peacekeepers have been killed since the force first deployed in March last year.    
[Picture: RPG-armed pirates aboard the MV Faina. US Navy photo]