The United Nations today launched an action plan to combat piracy off the Somali coast, calling for greater support from national navies to fight a “global menace” that threatens not only international trade but the world body’s delivery of vital food aid to millions of hungry people.
“We are neither proud of, nor content with, the results achieved so far,” the Secretary-General of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO), Efthimios Mitropoulos, said at the official launch at his agency’s London headquarters on World Maritime Day.
He added that the past year alone saw 286 piracy-related incidents off the coast of Somalia, resulting in 67 hijacked ships, with 1,130 seafarers on board; while a recent study estimated the cost to the world economy from disruptions to international trade at between $7 billion and $12 billion.
One of the prime objectives of the new plan is “to promote greater levels of support from, and coordination with, navies” off Somalia, where patrols by the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and UN member states already provide “vital protection” for UN vessels delivering logistical support to the African Union force in Mogadishu, which seeks to help stabilize the war-torn country, and for UN food shipments to the 2.4 million Somalis who urgently need it.
“We were appalled by yesterday’s news that pirates had executed, apparently in cold blood, a seafarer on the Beluga Nomination, a ship which had been attacked and hijacked last month, 390 miles off the Seychelles,” Mr. Mitropoulos said. “This year, we are resolved to redouble our efforts and, in so doing, generate and galvanize a broader, global response to modern-day piracy.”
The IMO chief added that more needs to be done, including the tracing of money and the imposition of sanctions on the proceeds derived from hijacked ships, if the ultimate goal of “consigning piracy to the realms of history” is to be achieved.
Formally launching the plan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a long-term strategy of deterrence, security, rule of law and development to fight the scourge. Somalia has not had a functioning central government for the past 20 years during which it has been torn apart by factional warfare, most recently involving Al Shabaab and other Islamist militias.
“Although piracy manifests itself at sea, the roots of the problem are to be found ashore,” Mr. Ban said. “In essence, piracy is a criminal offence that is driven by economic hardship, and that flourishes in the absence of effective law enforcement.”
Ransom payments add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, creating a “pirate economy” in areas of Somalia that make them more resistant to efforts to develop alternative livelihoods, the Secretary-General added, noting that despite the deployment of significant naval assets to the region, the number of hijackings and victims has risen significantly.
“More needs to be done. We need to move beyond the impressive deterrence efforts, and to make sure that they are carried out in concert with the other elements of the strategy on land. We need to support alternative livelihoods and the rehabilitation of coastal fisheries,” Mr. Ban said.
The crucial humanitarian element in piracy was underlined by the presence at the launch of the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, whose chartered ships of vital food aid for Somalia were hijacked prior to the deployment of international naval forces in surrounding sea-lanes.
The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, also attended. In partnership with UNODC, IMO is helping countries in the region develop the legal framework needed to prosecute pirates. The anti-crime agency’s Counter-Piracy Programme, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is aiding efforts to help deal with suspected pirates who have been caught in the region, with an approach centred on three main objectives: fair and efficient trials and imprisonment in regional centres; humane and secure imprisonment in Somalia; and fair and efficient trials in Somalia.
Noting that IMO has been dealing with piracy issues for the last 30 years, Mr. Mitropoulos said earlier strategies used in the Gulf of Guinea in the 1980s and the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore in the late 1990s and earlier this century, could be used “to good effect in the current arena as well, but to do so requires a well orchestrated response.”
Beyond promoting greater support from navies, the plan’s priorities include boosting anti-piracy coordination and co-operation among countries, regions, organizations and industry, through information-sharing and military and civil efforts; and helping countries to build capacity in piracy-infested regions in order “to deter, interdict and bring to justice” the perpetrators.