Regional states, countries patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and United Nations agencies will shortly adopt an agreement to reinforce the fight against piracy.
Japan, meanwhile, is preparing for its first operational sortie into the Indian Ocean since World War Two.
Under the draft accord, signatories will agree to arrest, investigate and prosecute actual or suspected pirates, seize their boats and rescue ships under attack, the UN News Centre reports.
The agreement also covers possible hot pursuit into another country’s territorial waters, and shared operations such as nominating officers to embark in the patrol ships or aircraft of another signatory.
But Somalia itself, which has not had a functioning central Government since 1991 and is riven by warring factions, is also expected to play a large part.
“One can have few hopes that the situation at sea will improve dramatically unless and until there is significant improvement on the political front on land,” UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos told the opening session of the four-day meeting, convened by his agency, on Monday in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti.
“For it is favourable political developments ashore that will help stem the scourge offshore. The fate of Somalia is in the hands of the people of Somalia as they, and they alone, are, and should be, the masters of their country and its destiny. We wish their leaders courage, wisdom, prudence and determination to bring peace and stability to their country and among its citizens.”
Transport ministers and ambassadors of regional countries, States that have sent naval forces to protect shipping, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and United Kingdom, and officials of international organizations cooperating with IMO, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are attending the meeting.
Mitropoulos stressed that the contributing alliances of governments, organizations and individual countries such as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia had done their duty and that the time had now come for regional states to add their own contribution.
Regional States attending included Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In December, the UN Security Council unanimously called on countries and regional bodies with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight piracy, including possible action against pirate bases on land.
Apart from chartered WFP ships, recent seizures by pirates have included a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship with arms on board.
Meanwhile, some 150 new members of Somalia`s Transitional Federal Parliament belonging to the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) were sworn in today in Djibouti as part of an effort to bring former rebel opponents into the Government.
“We are finally seeing progress from the hard work by all sides to create an inclusive Parliament,” UN Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said.
The Parliament, which voted on Monday to expand by an additional 275 members, will elect a new president on 30 January, following the resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed last month. More ARS members will be sworn in tomorrow while 75 other seats are being kept for members of civil society and the opposition who are not members of the ARS.
In a letter sent today to the Somali diaspora, Ould-Abdallah noted that Somalis would have preferred to see the expansion of the Parliament and presidential elections taking place inside Somalia. “However, this important step towards restoring stability should ensure that future political processes are convened where they belong, inside your country,” he wrote.
Japan sets sail
The International Herald Tribune reports that the Japanese government yesterday announced it would deploy Maritime Self-Defense Force ships to protect Japanese commercial ships in the north-west Indian Ocean.
Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada says the task force could deploy as early as March. “The pirates in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia pose threats to Japan and the international community and are an issue that should be dealt with swiftly,” Hamada said.
The deployment, which would be considered a police action, is not expected to be as politically sensitive as other missions in recent years. Japan sent ground troops to Iraq as part of a humanitarian mission and its naval forces to the Indian Ocean on refuelling duties as part of the war in Afghanistan.
Japan is expected to restrict its naval efforts, at least initially, to protecting Japanese-owned ships or vessels carrying Japanese goods or crew. Hamada did not indicate whether the Japanese would coordinate with other nations already operating in the gulf.
The Chinese Xinhua news agency the MSDF will dispatch two destroyers, according to an outline of the operational guidelines released on Tuesday.
Each of the vessels will be equipped with two Sikorsky SH60K Seahawk helicopters and two high-speed boats, to be used by the Special Boarding Unit.
The International Maritime Bureau says 111 ships were attacked in 2008 off the eastern coast of Somalia and in the gulf. Forty-two vessels were hijacked, and a dozen are still being held. The maritime bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, recorded 293 acts of piracy worldwide last year, an increase of more than 11 percent from 2007.
In all, 49 vessels were hijacked, 889 crew members were taken hostage and another 46 vessels reported being fired upon. Eleven sailors were murdered and 21 more were missing and presumed dead. Guns were used in 139 incidents, nearly double the number in 2007.