The past few months have been marked by continual progress on all fronts for the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and its working groups, assistant foreign minister for security and military affairs Fares Al Mazroui told delegates at the 11th plenary meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy of the Coast of Somalia in New York yesterday - Gulf News.
Progress in the campaign against piracy has been built around four key priorities, Al Mazroui said as the UAE chaired the New York meeting of the contact group.
The first key priority that the UAE has set out to achieve through its leadership of the plenary is the raising of awareness and public diplomacy measures, especially in the region, Al Mazroui said in opening remarks at the meeting.
The strong progress made on this front through Working Group 4, which met in New York, includes significant advances made on the Contact Group's public information strategy, he added.
"Furthermore, as a part of these efforts, the UAE is considering the possibility of making available an Arabic version of the contact group's website, so that the group's work can be more accessible to the public in some of the regions most affected by Somali piracy," he said.
This initiative highlights the second of the UAE's key priorities for its plenary chairmanship: to emphasise the importance of engagement and ownership of this process by countries located in the region most affected by piracy, he added.
"The UAE, along with its neighbours in the region, has a critical stake in the freedom of movement on the western Indian Ocean, where piracy affects not only our seafarers, but our economies and its coastal security as well," Al Mazroui said.
Through measures such as diplomatic engagements, the UAE is striving to bring the piracy problem to the attention of Gulf states and partners. This emphasis on the region would help meet other key priorities of the UAE's plenary chairmanship, the official stressed.
Rear Admiral Tanin Likitawong, Royal Thai Navy, relieved Commodore Aage Buur Jensen, Royal Danish Navy, as Commander Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, during a change of command ceremony onboard USS Halsey (DDG 97), Muscat, Oman, March 29 - CMF.
The ceremony concluded the Royal Danish Navy’s first command of CTF 151, which consisted of a multi-national staff embarked in Halsey. The three month operation further strengthened ties with other counter-piracy naval forces on operations in the region, as well as further developing communication and collaboration within the merchant shipping community. Read more.
It is estimated that more than 145 representatives from navies, law enforcement agencies, the shipping industry and various governments met in Bahrain, to discuss counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin - CMF.
The 23rd Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) meeting [held 16 March] was chaired by the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) Capt Phil Haslam, Royal Navy, and hosted by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
The SHADE meeting, held every three months, focuses on improving cooperation and coordination of the maritime forces operating in the region while considering new initiatives and programs designed to disrupt, and ultimately, prevent, future pirate attacks.
The participants heard updates on the marked improvements of counter-piracy operations and success stories from the military and civilian maritime forces represented, as well as from the maritime industry.
Although there have been definite improvements in piracy deterrents since the last forum, Commodore Simon Ancona, Deputy Commander CMF, urged vigilance, stating in his opening remarks:
“If we remove the pressure then the problem will flare again. Gatherings such as these prove that there is always scope for better understanding and awareness which benefits every seafarer.”
Ancona also stated that to have a long term effect, the promoters and sponsors of piracy must also be targeted.
SHADE is also gathering momentum reflected by the increase in attendance. Malaysia was also present as the latest member of CMF.
SHADE participants meet regularly in Bahrain which is the base of the Combined Maritime Forces. The next SHADE will be held in June 2012.
The SHADE concept was established in Dec 2008, to coordinate the efforts of the many military forces conducting counter-piracy operations including escorting convoys of merchant vessels in the region.
The EU (European Union) agreed, on March 23rd, to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate military operations with the Somali TNG (Transitional National Government) - Strategy Page. This means that EUNAVFOR ships and aircraft can attack pirate targets on land. Most of the pirate bases (coastal towns and villages) are in Puntland, a self-declared state in northern Somalia. While less violent and chaotic than southern Somalia, Puntland officials are bribed and intimidated (by the superior firepower of the pirate gangs) into inaction. Technically, Puntland is opposed to the pirates, so the EU is hoping that Puntland won't make a stink when EU forces begin shooting at pirates on the coast.
The EU plan apparently involves going after pirate logistics and fuel supplies in their coastal havens. This could be tricky, as the pirates are well aware of how the Western media works and could easily put many of these targets in residential neighborhoods. The EU could respond by blockading the pirate bases, and attacking pirate attempts to truck in fuel and other supplies. Pirates could put civilians on trucks, or even captured sailors from ships held for ransom. There is no easy solution to the Somali pirates.
This new policy is not a radical shift in policy, but a continuation of a trend that has been under way for a while. For example, in the last year, the EU, and other members of the anti-piracy patrol, have taken a more aggressive approach to the pirates. Pirate mother ships (usually captured ocean going fishing ships) have been attacked on sight and any speedboat carrying armed men face similar treatment. This has encouraged Puntland to be more aggressive towards the pirates, but the Puntland anti-piracy force has not been able to shut down any pirate bases, and pirates openly try to gun down the leaders of the government anti-piracy effort. Nevertheless, the more aggressive attitude towards the pirates is having an impact. Aggressive anti-piracy tactics and more armed guards on merchant ships have reduced pirate attacks by nearly 70 percent in the last six months, and the number of captured ships even more.
Another encouraging sign is the growing number of pirates who are moving their portions of the ransom money out of Somalia, the kind of precaution that would be taken by someone who saw a dim future for piracy in Somalia.
A Westcountry ship will lead an Anglo-French armada to blast Somali pirates in their hideouts before they set sail, according to reports says This is Cornwall.
Devonport-based HMS Bulwark is likely to play a part in the mission to search the Somali coastline to find the gangs in their camps before they venture out to sea.
Whitehall sources suggest HMS Bulwark – an amphibious landing ship – and the Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious will sail to the Mediterranean with frigates – also from Devonport – and Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships.
The ships are said to be preparing to take part in war games with the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, after which British Prime Minister David Cameron will announce the fleet's deployment along the Somali coast.
Apache helicopter gunships would be used to attack the pirate hideouts and boats before they leave port, it was reported, while HMS Bulwark will carry 500 Royal Marines from 45 Commando.
A unnamed crew member on HMS Illustrious told the newspaper: "It is the worst-kept secret in Nato that we will be taking on the pirates." Read more.
The estimated $940,000 paid for the recent release of the British woman Judith Tebbutt held hostage in Somalia since last September has re-opened a war of words between the international shipping companies and the US and UK governments - The East African.
Both London and Washington have been increasingly insisted that ransom payments should not be paid as this only encourages the pirates.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged the creation of “an international task force on ransoms” adding that his aim was to “stop these payments because in the end they only ensure that crime pays.”
The US has been more specific with Andrew Shapiro, a senior official in the State Department saying that “a vicious circle has formed where ever-rising ransom payments have not just spurred pirate activity but have also enabled pirates to increase their operational capacity and sophistication.”
Latest evidence indicates that, although there has been a decline over the past two years in the number of pirate attacks, ransom payments have increased substantially, with $9.5 million paid for the release of the South Korean oil tanker Sambo Dream [By OL: Samho Dream. Irene SL higher ransom] in November 2010.
Shipping companies say the approach of the US and UK governments could escalate the use of violence against seafarers.
The International Shipping Association warned that it would put all hostages “currently held in captivity by Somali pirates at the mercy of violent organised crime.” Read more.
The hijack success rate for Somali pirates has dropped sharply in recent months, a NATO official said on Monday, due in part to more merchant ships turning to armed security guards, razor wire and water pumps to protect themselves.
Improved international cooperation on combating piracy on land and at sea - covering an area four times the size of the Arabian peninsula - has been the cornerstone of efforts to tackle a problem costing the world economy up to $12 billion a year, a spokesman for NATO's counter-piracy force in the Indian Ocean said - Reuters.
"Only six vessels have been pirated for ransom in the last eight months, compared to 36 in the preceding eight," Lieutenant Commander Mehmet Elyurek told reporters on board the TCG Giresun, the Turkish flagship of the force that operates off the Horn of Africa.
The rate of successful hijack attempts had "almost returned to pre-crisis (2007) levels."
John Steed, a former head of the United Nations counter-piracy unit, has said a major reason for the drop in the number of vessels hijacked is that the pirates got so rich last year.
But increased use of armed private security guards, and other defences like pirate-pummelling water pumps and razor wire are also helping reduce the number of successful attacks on merchant ships.
"Armed security guards on board the merchant vessels is very effective means of protecting them," Rear Admiral Sinan Azmi Tosun, the commander of the SNMG2 said. "We welcome all these protection measures."
Nine pirated merchant ships are still anchored off the Somali coast waiting for ransom payments from their owners, and an Iranian sugar ship hijacked last week near the Maldives is on its way to Somalia, he said.
Pirates held 1,026 hostages last year but after some $146 million in ransom was paid to free 30 vessels, the number of hostages has fallen to 236, according to NATO figures.
Sixty percent fewer ships are being hijacked off the Horn of Africa, the commander of the Nato counter-piracy mission said in Dubai yesterday - The National.
Rear Admiral Sinan Azmi Tosun, the Turk serving as commanding officer of the Standing Nato Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), said only six merchant vessels were taken for ransom in the past eight months, compared with 36 in the eight months before.
Admiral Tosun said there had been a drop of 60 per cent since 2008.
"Nato, in conjunction with other actors, is succeeding in countering piracy," he said.
Admiral Tosun said that last year 1,026 hostages were taken hostage and ransoms totalling US$146 million (Dh536.2m) were paid to free 30 vessels. Read more.
Somali pirates launched fewer successful attacks on commercial shipping in 2011. European Union nations want that trend to continue through 2012 and beyond. Last week, EU nations agreed to let their military forces patrolling the Somali coast conduct strikes on pirate facilities up to two kilometers inland. Attacking pirate bases represents a significant change in military policy but is in line with more aggressive counter-piracy measures being implemented in areas subject to Somali pirate attacks, comments Townhall.com.
Escalation has always been a military option. Resistance has thwarted previous pirate attacks.
In 2005, Somali pirates attacked the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit. Despite damaging the civilian liner with automatic rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the pirate attack failed. Why? The crew resisted. They used the ship's wake to jostle the pirate speedboats then employed a non-lethal but ear-drum rattling sonic weapon. The pirates withdrew -- to attack easier prey at a more opportune moment.
International forces patrolling off the coast have counterattacked at sea. The most spectacular example occurred three years ago, when a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed three pirates who had taken an American merchant ship [Maersk Alabama] captain hostage. At least one pirate had a weapon pointed at the hostage when the SEALs fired. The successful rescue was a near thing. Read more.
How wide is a beach? How long are internal waters? Whoever thought that German lawmakers would ask such questions? - Khaleej Times Online.
Yet that is what is going to happen in the coming weeks when the German Parliament will be asked to support what could turn out to be one of the European Union’s most dangerous missions. The mission involves pursuing Somali pirates onshore, the first time the Union has considered such an option. So far, the EU mandate off the Horn of Africa, known as Operation Atalanta, has limited the pursuit of pirates to the sea.
The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, set out her goal to foreign ministers when they met in Brussels in late March. The changes to the Atalanta mandate, Ashton said, would allow it “to take more robust action on the Somali coast.” Gernot Erler, deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats and a specialist in foreign policy, is skeptical. “This is such a radical change to the mandate. Where will it all end? It could lead to mission creep,” he said.
Austria and Spain, which along with Germany considered blocking the move, have similar reservations. But they, too, agreed to pass the issue to the military planners. Read more.
Stating that the disruption of sea-borne trade due to piracy, terrorism, or conflict can have serious repercussions on the economies and overall well-being of nations in the Indian Ocean Region, Defence Minister A K Antony today said the INS Chakra would play a major role in reshaping maritime operations of the Indian Navy in the years to come and ensure security, sovereignty and economic prosperity of the country News Track India.
Antony, who formally commissioned the Akula II class Nerpa, rechristened 'INS Chakra', into the Navy at the Ship Building Complex in Visakhapatnam, in his address on the occasion said the Indian Ocean Region, which is home to large population and some of the most dynamic and fast growing economies, has assumed great strategic significance over the years.
" Geo-strategically, India is the hub of this region. The disruption of sea-borne trade due to piracy, terrorism, or conflict can have serious repercussions on the economies and overall well-being of nations in the Indian Ocean Region. As peace and stability in the region are crucial to peace in the world at large, it is imperative that the Indian Navy maintains a strong, stabilising and credible naval presence in the region," said Antony.
"At the same time, I wish to strongly emphasise that our naval presence is not at all directed against any nation, but only to act as a stabilising force and protect our strategic interests. Towards this end, the induction of INS Chakra is a step in the right direction," he added.
Expressing his pleasure to be at the arrival ceremony of INS Chakra, Antony said: " The historic event reflects the high level of cooperation and strategic partnership between India and Russia." Read more.