Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has officially opened the 2012 Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in Cape Town, which is being held on African soil for the first time. The event is one of the most important maritime conferences in the region, bringing together 86 countries. This year’s event is focused on regional maritime security threats.
“Maritime security forms a critical element of collective human security and is fundamentally linked to the development and economic prosperity of our respective regions,” Sisulu said this morning at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. She added that she was concerned about a range of illegal and criminal activities burdening Africa’s shores and endangering economies that revolve around the oceans. “Approximately 90% of trade destined for Africa is transported by sea. This percentage is higher within intra-African trade. It is within this context that you will understand how tangible our vulnerability is.”
Sisulu urged delegates to consider the fact that, “the ravages of piracy in 2006 netted a worldwide figure for hostages taken at sea at 186. Compare this to the figure of 1 016 hostages taken in the Indian Ocean around Africa in 2010. Then you understand that we are dealing with an extremely grave challenge.” According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of March 19 there have been 87 attacks against ships around the world this year, resulting in nine hijackings. Of those incidents, Somali pirates were responsible for 36 attacks and seven hijackings. They are currently holding 13 vessels and 197 hostages, 92 of whom were captured this year.
Sisulu noted that of particular concern was the spread of piracy south to Southern African Development Community (SADC) nations – the minister noted that Tanzania has reported 57 attacks by pirates in its territorial waters between February 2011 and February 2012, which was “an unprecedented number, but one that is indicative of the relocation of piracy to the SADC ocean.”
As a result of this, the South African Navy is patrolling the waters from South Africa to Tanzania and has a vessel permanently deployed there. South Africa recently signed a trilateral agreement with Mozambique and Tanzania further cooperation in this regard.
Sisulu cautioned that countries must act together to combat maritime insecurity and that collective cooperation would be mutually beneficial in obtaining solutions to regional maritime security.
Sisulu also 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 Indian Ocean Naval Symposium holds the most remarkable potential. In your hands is the protection of a way of life,” Sisulu told delegates. “In your hands is a huge responsibility. Do me the honour of emerging from this symposium with historic responses. I eagerly await the result.”
IONS was first held in India in 2008 and then in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The symposium runs to Friday.