INDUSTRY LOSES PATIENCE OVER PIRATES
GLOBAL shipping industry organisation the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the specialist anti-maritime crime agency ICC International Maritime Bureau have both spoken out strongly in internal documents, seen by Anderimar Shipping News, against a ?lack of political will? and ?abrogation of responsibility? by governments with naval forces capable of acting against Somali-based pirates. And in the case of the ICS, shipowners throughout the world are likely to take an unusually high profile in lobbying for action. The industry moves come to light as no fewer than 10 commercial vessels, including large bulk carriers, and their crews are being held to ransom by Somali-based pirates. Attacks on ships transiting the Gulf of Aden continue on a daily basis.
The ICS has called upon its member national associations to lobby their governments and to put the issue in front of the mainstream press. The ICS executive committee, which met Tuesday, has has asked its members to draw the attention of defence and foreign ministries to the urgent need for military naval forces in the Gulf of Aden to provide adequate protection to merchant shipping, in accordance with the UN Security Council mandate, and to ?bring this serious problem to the attention of mainstream national media contacts?.
The ICS circular speaks of the ?apparent inadequacy of the protection being provided by the Coalition navy forces operating in the vicinity, notwithstanding the mandate they now have from the United Nations Security Council to take action against the pirates?.
ICS says the underlying problem is that many of the military forces have not been given clear instructions or "rules of engagement" by their governments, presumably due to a lack of political will.
In addition to highlighting the inadequate action being taken against the pirates, not least against the pirate "mother ships" which are understood to be operating with virtual impunity in the area, the ICS has asked its members to stress the need for the UN Security Council mandate to be extended when it expires in December. ?It will,? ICS says, ?be especially helpful if those national associations whose governments are part of the Coalition Task Force, and/or are members of NATO, can make every effort to discuss this issue with their defence and foreign ministries.?
The circular also says: ?Recognising that the safety of merchant shipping may not be amongst the highest priorities of governments, the Committee suggested that national associations should do everything they can to put pressure on governments by generating publicity in their national mainstream media about this threat to shipping and the lives of seafarers.?
In an internal newsletter issued last week IMB said that a significant reason for the upsurge in hijackings has been the inability of coalition naval units to deter the pirates. IT notes: ?The coalition navies off the Horn of Africa are doing their best to respond to the attacks. Their priorities however are military operations in the Middle East and fighting terrorism. There are not enough coalition naval assets to effectively patrol this seaway in respect of piracy.?
ICS recognises that the navies face other restrictions. It is unclear what a naval vessel is to do if they intervene and take pirates prisoner. There have been very few flag states and only one neighbouring country in the region which has accepted prisoners for investigation and prosecution. ICS says: ?Naval vessels will understandably hesitate to intervene once hijackers have taken over a vessel and are holding crew hostage. Concern over the safety of the hostages may preclude armed intervention except in exceptional circumstances.?
On the other hand, argues the IMB, ?the naval units on the direction of their governments, could deploy in the high risk areas identified, for example, by attempted attacks reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre and interrogate suspected mother vessels and disrupt their operations. If suspected pirates cannot be detained for questioning then at least their weapons could be confiscated and their movements closely tracked as a deterrent. There is after all no excuse for a vessel on legitimate business in the Gulf to carry rocket propelled grenade launchers.
UN Security Council Resolution 1816 is a valuable tool in the fight against piracy. It allows for foreign intervention inside territorial limits, provided permission is given by the Somali Transitional Federal Government. UNSCR 1816 was passed with the support of the Somali TFG and permission should therefore not be normally withheld if sought by coalition countries. Reportedly, only a few countries whose naval vessels patrol off the coast of Somalia have sought permission.
ICS concludes: ?Perhaps there are more important geo-political priorities which preclude some of the coalition governments from intervening in cases of piracy in Somali waters. However, from an industry perspective this arguably amounts to an abdication of responsibility. The only forces who can respond robustly to piracy in Somalia are the coalition naval forces. If their operations are restricted by their governments, then merchant vessels are left with little protection against these pirate gangs who appear to operate freely in the Gulf of Aden. It is difficult to understand why in today"s highly trade-dependent world, the protection of maritime trade routes is not a top priority of the navies.?