Call for Regional Maritime Coalition to Fight Piracy

  • 5 June 2013

A regional maritime security coalition is required to effectively fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Greater Indian Ocean, experts at the piracy forum held at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research HQ in the Capital proposed on Tuesday.

“We need to have a task force in the region. We found that there is no concerted efforts in the region especially those in the Red Sea, due to the presence of international forces... there’s a need to coordinate and consolidate efforts in the region to secure navigational movement. We need to have a unified Arab strategy, following proposed steps,” Colonel Mahmoud Al Zarooni of the UAE Naval Forces said.

“The Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea... requires intensified efforts from all countries and a unified approach to end piracy,” he pointed out. It calls for a unified approach that includes “taking Somalia out of instability”; help develop the coast guards of some countries in the region; sharing and collecting information and available technologies such as satellites in locating ships; an integrated strategy that includes Arab military presence; training of ships’ crew on how to respond to attacks; identifying safe passages for ships; adoption of unified agreement that allows the use of weapons; and the establishment of courts in the region and legal procedures according to international and human rights law. According to Dr Ahmed Salem Al Wahishi, director of Yemen International Affairs Centre (YIAC), piracy is not only a threat to the region but also to other countries.

The Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea are vital international trade routes, and a large percentage of the world’s oil pass through these areas. Thus, any challenge to maritime security in this region must be addressed with the highest priority. “The threat is still ongoing. In particular last year, about 8 million euros (Dh38.26 million) were paid to Somali pirates to release Filipino and Danish sailors from the Gulf of Aden,” he said.

Declining attacks

Since 2011, acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea have steadily decreased “with only a handful of successful hijackings”. This year, only three attacks of pirates in these waters were reported, and all were thwarted. In 2012, there were only five successfully pirated ships (total ransom of $31.75 million) resulting from 35 attacks. In 2008, when there was a sudden spike in pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden, 111 ships were attacked, 42 of which were successfully pirated earning them up to $3 million per ship.

“This decrease is attributable to a number of factors; however, it is clear that the efforts of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) are the main reasons for the decline,” said Dr John Ballard, assistant to the Commandant for Academic Affairs and dean of National Defence College at the UAE Armed Forces.

Indian Ocean

With the success of curtailing piracy off the coast of East Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca have now become the newest hotbed of piracy. “Nearly 20 per cent of global sea trade occurs in the Indian Ocean and 15.2 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Malacca each day. The global economy cannot afford to allow piracy to expand in this crucial region... it is time for the world to develop new types of seamless regional security initiatives,” said Dr Ballard.

He proposed the establishment of a “maritime Interpol” for the greater Indian Ocean — an area stretching from the Red Sea to the Strait of Malacca — which holds key maritime chokepoints, the greatest volume of energy trade and high percentage of trade in many commodities and manufactured products.

Piracy law

Despite the success in thwarting piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea in the past three years, the varying laws governing piracy offences and the absence of an international standard relating to piracy remain to be a setback.

Dr Robin Warner, associate professor at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), pointed out that some national laws prohibiting piracy only apply to nationals of that state.