UN Piracy Group – concerns that Somali piracy could re-emerge

Over a three-day period the UN Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (UNCGPCS) met in Dubai to discuss various aspects related to the issue of Somalian piracy, where it was stated that the last pirate attack took place in April 2014. Since that time, one boarding took place on a vessel anchored off Somalia and several suspicious events have been reported.

However, all of the assessments on the pirate networks came to the same conclusion: piracy in the area has only been suppressed and that given an opportunity, the pirates would hijack a vessel. The intent remains and the networks ashore have not been disrupted.

This, coupled with the lack of progress in ensuring the proper legal systems were in place in Somalia, raised real concerns that piracy could re-emerge. Particular concern was raised over the recent release without charge of a pirate kingpin – this person remains at large in Somalia. In fact, the group noted that pirates can operate with impunity in Somalia free from arrest and prosecution.

Data was shown which indicated that the trading routes of vessels had reverted to movement patterns similar to those before the piracy threat really took hold. However, most of the vessels passing closer to the Somalian coast (but still several hundred miles off) did carry armed security teams and overall 40% of those ships passing through the area had teams on board. But concern was raised by various States over the numbers of vessels steaming at slow speed through the area. INTERTANKO repeats that vessels operating in the area should do so in full compliance with best management practice.

An ad hoc meeting on the geographical limits of the high risk area (HRA) was held. This meeting was opened with presentations by India, Egypt and from industry representatives (INTERTANKO, ICS and OCIMF). India and Egypt argued that it was time to reduce the HRA in order to reflect the reduced risk of piracy. The industry stated that it would be premature to reduce the area as the pirates’ intent to operate remained and that reducing the area would send the wrong message. Sri Lanka and Pakistan both supported the industry position. It was agreed that another meeting on the issue should be undertaken in prior to the next plenary meeting.

On the future of the UNCGPCS, several options were on the table from expanding its remit to cover West Africa to closing it down. It was agreed that the group should continue, but in reduced form. The next meeting of the plenary will be held ‘in the region’ in May 2015. Interestingly, the Russian Federation stated that they were actively considering placing naval vessels into the South China Sea to assist in the combating of the piracy in this area.

Several working groups reported on their activity to the plenary session as follows:

Working Group (WG) on capacity building
The WG reported that there was an urgent need for the Somalian federal government to implement a maritime coastguard law. The government reported that they will do this in the next six months and will be report back to the next meeting. There was a need to clarify the role and responsibilities of the internal maritime security structures and how they related to external structures as well as a need to clarity on the arrest and prosecution of kingpins. The group reiterated the principle that authority remained with federal authorities. The EC, through the EUCAP Nestor, will undertake much of the capacity building work.

WG on maritime counter piracy and military operations
Several presentations were made which outlined the mode and operations of the pirates. A key finding was that maritime situational awareness must be in place to ensure that the pirate operations were seen and stopped where possible. It was stressed that in order to have an enduring solution, the trust between all stakeholders which has ensured good communication and information exchange must be continued especially as the threat of piracy remained.

WG on disrupting piracy networks ashore
Progress in working together between the stakeholders was reported as being a great success particular in respect to the law enforcement task force. The Chair of that group got held a meeting in Vienna in order to talk through the problems and share best practice.

The main WG expressed its extreme frustration at the release of pirate kingpins from prison in Somalia and reported on the serious shortcomings in the legal workings in Somalia. In this they stated that pirate could operate with impunity free from fear of arrest or prosecution. The World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would continue to assist the countries with intelligence and other information on money smuggling.

This would be done in order to look at best ways to develop the intelligence to ensure the prosecution of those undertaking piracy.

Legal Forum
This forum which, meets virtually, was woken up for this meeting. There was broad discussion on various legal issues and how to implement the legal toolbox. A website has been set up which should serve as a virtual meeting room and repository of best practice and Mauritius reported on how they undertook the prosecution of 12 suspects.

Contact: Phil Belcher