Somalia piracy ù when is enough enough?
On Second thought' By Thomas Timlen
If things don't change for the better soon, this column may evolve into an annual update on the Somali piracy situation.
Sadly, despite various efforts from a wide range of stakeholders, the update comparing today's situation with the situation a year ago can easily be summed up by the notorious acronym: SNAFU.
This is not to say no efforts have been made during that past 12 months to reduce the risks of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean, But rather this highlights the inconvenient truth that so long as Somalia itself lacks the means to police its own territory, the pirates launching their attacks from the Somali coastline will continue to 'hunt' for vulnerable merchant ships.
The most recent initiative aimed at improving the situation is a petition campaign sponsored by BIMCO and 12 other industry associations ' International Chamber of Shipping, International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations, International Maritime Employers Committee, International Parcel Tankers Association, Intercargo, InterManager, International Group of P&I Clubs, INTERTANKO, International Shipping Federation, International Transport Workers' Federation, International Union of Marine Insurance and Society of International Gas Tanker & Terminal Operators Ltd. ' as well as national ship owners' associations and trade unions worldwide.
This new campaign seeks to persuade all governments to commit the resources necessary to end the increasing problem of Somalia-based piracy. It is intended to deliver at least half a million signatures to governments by Sept. 23, which happens to be IMO World Maritime Day under the theme, 'Year of the seafarer.'
A key aspect of the campaign is to call nations to focus on 'real solutions' to the growing piracy problem, and to work within the international community to secure a stable and peaceful future for Somalia and its people.To date most efforts have been aimed at the symptoms of the disease, namely the attacks and hijackings, while devoting comparatively fewer resources to the cause of the disease, the failed Somali state.
The efforts of multinational naval ships operating in the Gulf of Aden have paid off as the frequency of hijackings in this area has all but been eliminated. Unfortunately, as these waters became less friendly to the pirates, they simply shifted to the Indian Ocean.
It is fair to say that the efforts made to date, such as the enhanced and coordinated naval patrols, group transits, improved piracy-defense measures implemented on merchant ships, and the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of some of the pirates, have all been implemented with equally impressive degrees of good intentions and at significant financial cost. Yet it is equally fair to say the efforts to improve the situation at the root of the problem, within Somalia itself, pale both in investment and with regard to actual human effort.
Consider simply the costs borne by the many nations deploying naval assets in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Many of the nations involved have engaged warships with this mission for several years at a great expense.
A published figure for one German frigate operating in the Gulf of Aden shows its annual operating costs at $60 million, or about $170,000 per day. The published cost of running EUNAVFOR's operational and field headquarters was set at about $10 million for the first year alone, and this does not cover the European warships involved in this effort. Consider the daily cost of involving the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and the figures keep rising.
Instead of continuing to allocate such huge amounts of cash to military operations at sea, there may be more to gain by investing in development programs aimed
at, for instance, re-establishing Somalia's fishing industry.
Somali's piracy origins have been attributed to predatory fishing by foreign fishing trawlers following the collapse of Somali governmental authority during the 1990's, which led local Somali fishermen from coastal towns such as Eyl, Kismayo and Harardhere to turn to piracy as a source of income.
Surely even a fraction of the funds being used to cover the costs of the multinational naval presence would go a long way towards modernizing fish processing plants that could provide an honest living for many Somalis.
Such efforts would complement initiatives of local Somali businessmen who reportedly have pledged to invest $1 billion in the national gas and electricity industries through 2015.
At a recent piracy conference in Singapore, BIMCO President Robert Lorenz-Meyer declared the organization strongly believes 'the solution to the problem lies ashore and in Somalia. The international community must strive to establish alternative livelihoods for those arguably forced into piracy, providing the means to restart for example fishing and fish processing plants.'
Nations will need to shift their focus from Somalia's piracy symptoms and begin to address its cause. If the initiative to deliver 500,000 signatures to the world's leaders helps to achieve that, so much the better.
While acknowledging the noble efforts of the warships protecting merchant shipping at sea, it's about time more people encourage countries to take a closer look at what must be done on land. If you agree the time has come for a change of tactics, I would encourage you to add your name to the petition, which can be done at www.itfseafarers.org/petition.cfm
As Lorenz-Meyer said in Singapore a few weeks ago, 'the governments of the world must get their act together.'