Piracy off the coast of Somalia remains a critical issue
A European Union ambassador and a French military naval officer have called for support from countries in the East African bloc, other African countries partners to find a proper solution to the political turmoil which has engulfed Somalia over the past two decades.
The call was made by European Union Ambassador to Tanzania Filiberto Ceriani Sebregondi, to media representatives, who were invited to attend an EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Force Headquarters media event, held on board the French warship FS MARNE.
At this event, EU NAVFOR Force Commander Rear Admiral Jean-Baptiste Dupuis from the French Navy elaborated on a series of activities that his ship will conduct in order to get rid of the piracy threat which has been affecting a lot of the traffic on the Ocean.
The warlike marine vessel is on a four-month assignment against pirates, but it will also deal with other crimes going on around the ocean, in particular illegal fishing.
"A military action to prevent piracy must be accompanied by massive support from other partners, including the United Nations and the African Union, towards finding a political solution to Somalia, which is the main source of the problem," remarked the ambassador.
Apart from the EU ambassador, another high-ranking officer at the event and who also made constructive comments was the French Ambassador to Tanzania, Marcel Escure, who in turn called for a concerted effort of the multi-stakeholders in order to end this bad situation.
Ambassador Sebregondi revisited a number of the problems which have arisen because of a failure to find an amicable solution in Somalia, where economic activity has been seriously affected to the extent of causing instability on almost the whole of the easterly rim of East Africa and the Horn of Africa.
"Apart from political instability, we all know how piracy has added more difficulties to a country that is commonly known for its terrible refugee problem, which has caused human sufferings and immorality to a large extent," he added.
He equated Somalia as being a hot spot with Afghanistan, where the internal challenges have drawn world attention due to the uniqueness of the criminal operations troubling one of the most important areas for sea navigation.
"It is strange to see that the UN and AU have managed to resolve so many conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, but these bodies have failed to resolve the clan fighting, to the extent that Kenya has also been put in a very delicate security situation over the past six years," he commented.
The ambassador reminded his hearers that Somalia is important to Europe not only because of deterring piracy but also because of the historical cooperation under the former European Economic Commission and the African Caribbean and Pacific arrangement, commonly known as the Lome' Convention.
He mentioned that currently, due to the desperation of youth in the area, some of them have been caught several times trying to migrate to Europe as stowaways. But in the worst case some have even resolved to become terrorists, no wonder now that the Al-shabaab network is increasing its presence in the region.
The ambassador mentioned that the disintegration of Somalia has increased the cost of living in almost the whole of the East and Horn of Africa, for the reason that economic activity is affected as countries have to tighten their security.
In 2010, during the World Cup, an Al-shabaab masterminded attack led to the death of more than 70 people in Kampala, due to the fact that Uganda had provided soldiers against Somali pirates.
Around the same time there were attacks on Kenya which prompted the Nairobi government to launch a full scale war against Somali terrorists, an operation which is still ongoing up to now, although its magnitude has been reduced considerably.
Moreover freight charges have increased consumer prices, while investments in certain areas have dwindled due to security threats. The involvement of NATO, the EU and other players has diverted the use of funds which otherwise could have been spent on developmental activities.
For his part, Admiral Dupuis said his involvement was purely military, but a good number of decisions are political, while he admitted that without tightening security the whole of the maritime area from the Red Sea to the coast of Mozambique would be rendered useless.
He declared that piracy has necessitated military intervention because the world is very much dependent on the Gulf of Aden, due to the economic activity carried out there, particularly the passage of freight.
"The cost of fighting piracy is nothing in comparison to the devastation caused by pirate activity, harbours in Dar es Salaam and Mombasa will be quite unproductive due to the effect of this brigandage, if it were to go on unchecked," he commented.
Describing the functions of his ship, the admiral said that currently Djibouti has been set up as the headquarters of anti-pirate action, and this has been so for all the partner states of the operation.
His ship this time has 215 crewmen on board together with 30 task-force staff soldiers, but although France is currently in charge of the operation there are further independent antipiracy actions being conducted by NATO, China, India and Russia.
He said his assignment amongst many other things is to be in charge of giving orders and maintaining communications, and eventually giving reports and feedback to the central command of the operation.
He elaborated further that the operation encompasses a lot of tactical measures which are based on computer work linking the US, NATO and numerous influential people in intelligence and global security networks.
The admiral revealed that the current EU mandate against piracy extends up to 2014 and is subject to renewal. Operating under the title Atalanta 2012, the admiral said that there have been big improvements in the methods of operation.
Giving statistics, he said that in 2009 there were 163 attacks on shipping, while in 2010 they increased up to 174, and in 2011 they rose again to 176, but since the beginning of this year there have been just 32 attacks, and even if they were to double they would not reach the number counted last year.
On the question of piracy, the ships attacked by pirates were 46 in 2009, 47 in 2010 and 25 in 2011, but in this year so far only 5 ships have been assaulted. On the question of normal disruptions to the shipping, 14 incidents were reported in 2009, 65 in 2010 and 28 in 2011, while 11 only have been reported so far this year.
He cited the reasons for this improvement as military action and significant international coordination, best management practices and the increasing presence of private, armed security teams on board merchant vessels.
The admiral also noted that another significant measure for the improvement of the situation was support to the Somali authorities and to countries in that region.
"Due to these efforts we have managed to disrupt five pirate groups using fishing dhows, since April 7 this year. In the same time we sent back 45 poachers who were fishing illegally, we have also managed to control shoreline operations," he added.
He narrated further that 11 pirates were handed over to the Seychelles authorities, while 22 ships were protected while transporting food under the World Food Programme.
The general successes of the Atalanta operation since it was launched in 2008 are a 100 per cent provision of escorts to the WFP vessels delivering food to the Somali people, and the protection of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).
Moreover this operation has been successful in protecting vulnerable shipping within the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor and the High Risk Area.
As a result of good cooperation with regional governments like Kenya and the Republic of Seychelles, suspected pirates captured by the EU NAVFOR have been transferred to the competent authorities with a view to prosecution and conviction.
With up to 95 percent of EU member states' trade by volume transported by sea and 20 per cent global trade passing through the Gulf of Aden, EU NAVFOR gives considerable effort to safeguarding trade through this strategic area.
Apart from the general discussion, journalists managed to view various parts of the war ship which has a full capacity for carrying small fighter boats and helicopters, while it can also supply goods like oil, food and spare parts to three different ships at the same time.
The main guide during this visit, Lieutenant Alexis Edme, who is public affairs officer of the European Naval Force, said piracy has made life very difficult for many players, including the soldiers who are supposed to spend long periods on the ocean wave for surveillance purposes.
The crews showed a video clip of some of the operations that the highly expensive ship has conducted on the water and in airspace simultaneously.
The international efforts by the EU, IGAD, and the EAC have helped to reduce crime in the Horn of Africa, which has always attracted organized criminal gangs who conduct their affairs openly and covertly, from drug trafficking to infiltrating stowaways, and human trafficking as well.
It was noted that depending on the season of the year, pirate activity tends to rise and dwindle with its own rhythm. Currently with the monsoon winds, piracy has been reduced, due to the fragility of the marine vessels used by pirates, so they tend to resort to other criminal activities while waiting for the weather to change and allow them to set sail.
By Elias Mhegera