The third Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) will contribute to the defeat of piracy, the past and present chairmen of the symposium say, as long as the solutions sought are not exclusively military.
Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe Johannes Mudimu, is confident the scourge can be overcome. He spoke to defenceWeb on the sidelines of the Cape Town edition of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which is the first African venue for the gathering. Mudimu is the new chair of IONS.
When asked if piracy can be defeated, Mudimu’s answer was, “Definitely!” He went on to say that if we do not occupy the oceans, “we’ll have a problem.” The South African Navy is permanently deploying a vessel to the Mozambique Channel as part of the anti-piracy Operation Copper. The SAS Drakensberg is currently on station there. “We will carry out this task as long as the minister [of defence] says we should do so,” he said.
Mudimu pointed out that around 90% of world trade is carried on the oceans, with the Indian Ocean being responsible for a large portion of that. “If the sea lines of communication are disrupted, that will impact negatively [on trade] – as we are currently seeing…The spread and the increase of pirate activity, primarily off the Somalian coast, disrupts trade among these [Indian Ocean] countries.
“That’s why the new thinking is how do we improve the security among the commercial vessels themselves? People are coming out with different notions on how we should do this, because of the importance of the sea.”
“We are also mindful of the fact that the problem can not be solved at sea alone. This is an issue that must be resolved on land on the political level. So with that multi-pronged approach, piracy can be defeated,” Mudimu said.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans at the opening of IONS yesterday noted that maritime insecurity has its roots on land and that the socio-economic situations of countries home to pirates – like Somalia – need to be taken into consideration. “A single military maritime response will achieve little on its own. This is particularly important when considering that most matters of maritime crime originate on land. A solution which only addresses itself to the maritime dimension, without taking cognisance of the broader land-based complexities, will at best be limited in its success, and fundamentally flawed,” she said.
“Essentially, the broader focus needs to direct itself to addressing not only symptoms such as maritime crime, but also to address itself to the root causes, such as ongoing instability, lack of good governance, lack of viability of the local economy and poverty and continued underdevelopment.”
The commander of Iran’s navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, likened piracy to a hole in a boat. He said nations must not simply scoop out the water with buckets but rather plug the hole.
The Officer Commanding the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Navy, Brigadier Ibrahim Al Musharakh, former IONS chair, referred to the importance of the Indian Ocean. “It has always been important historically. This ocean has always had routes connecting East to West (and) now it is a major medium for energy transfer.”
“There are waterways within the Indian Ocean that have significant importance,” he said. These included, “Arabian Sea, the Choke Points the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Cape, all these places.”
Al Musharakh said he was concerned by piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf and the way its impact had pushed up the cost of insurance for vessels travelling in the region. He also raised concern “over the safety of navigation over the Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. The tensions that are created politically have an impact on the maritime theatre. A lot of the ships that do have a presence in the area of the Gulf play a major role in the rise and sometimes decline of tensions there.” He said he hoped that with collaboration, the security problems in the region could be overcome.
While both Al Musharakh and Mudimu were hopeful that piracy would eventually be overcome, they stressed the need for hard professional work among naval officers, including action plans that would “concretise all the issues” at IONS and other similar forums.
Al Musharakh said that “the impacts of the challenges [to maritime security] can have catastrophic effects on Indian Ocean countries….I strongly believe that IONS has a major role to play” in solving these problems.
Admiral Mudimu summarised what the navies and coast guards of the of the world have to achieve. He said, that “We want to re-write the history that is written by the pirates. The pirates must not author a chapter in the history of humankind. The navies of the world must continue to change that history.”