At a breakfast meeting on Wednesday with senior shipping industry representatives, the EU Naval Force Operation Commander, Major General Martin Smith MBE, stated that whilst Somali-based piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden is suppressed, there is no room for complacency regarding the on-going threat.
Major General Smith welcomed the significant reduction in pirate attacks since 2012, stating that this had been achieved by the ‘collective effort’ of shipping companies and dedicated naval forces, including the European Union Naval Force. The General warned, however, that whilst the opportunity for pirates to get out to sea and attack ships had reduced, the pirates’ intent and capability remains.
Speaking during the meeting, Major General Smith said “It is clear that we have (together) come a long way since early 2011, when 736 hostages and 32 ships were being held for ransom in anchorages off Somali beaches. However, the recent incidents of Iranian dhows being captured by groups of armed men demonstrate that there are still some who are prepared to go out to sea and take vessels for ransom.”
One of the dhows, Siraj, and its crew, is still being held after being captured at sea in March 2015.
Major General Smith went on to say that because of the naval patrols and merchant vessels’ self-protection measures, including the use of private armed security teams (PAST), in the Indian Ocean, counter-piracy forces assess that the threat from long-range pirate attacks in the near future is reduced.
“Collectively we have been able to curtail their use of mother ships to attack far from the coast, but I remain convinced that if pirates perceive that we are lowering our guard, they will seize the opportunity and plan an attack on a vulnerable ship. And if they take one ship, this could re-energize their business model, which you know all too well, could cost the international community and shipping industry dearly.”
EU Naval Force’s main tasks are to escort merchant vessels carrying humanitarian aid for the World Food Programme (WFP) and vessels of AMISOM as they transit along the Somali coast, and to deter and disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. EU Naval Force warships also monitor fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.
The current EU Naval Force mandate runs until December 2016. In the coming months, EU Member States will carry out a strategic review of the piracy threat to enable them to make a collective decision on how to best proceed post-2016.