NATO Committed to Counter-Piracy Mission

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By Jaya RamahandraAdmiral James G. Stavridisn

BERLIN - Though there have been reductions in piracy, "NATO remains committed to the counter-piracy mission, and our ships will continue to sail in the area off the coast of Africa for the foreseeable future," says Admiral James Stavridis, one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's two strategic commanders.

The reason: Somali pirates continue to account for the majority of attacks in East and West Africa. A military solution should however be accompanied by supporting local development of villages that have gained little from hosting pirates, he added expressing his interest in the findings of a paper titled 'Treasure Mapped: Using Satellite Imagery to Track the Developmental Effects of Somali Piracy', published by Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House .

The report's author Anjay Shorland writes: "A negotiated solution to the piracy problem should aim to exploit local disappointment among coastal communities regarding the economic benefits from piracy and offer them an alternative that brings them far greater benefits than hosting pirates does. A military crack-down on the other hand would deprive one of the world’s poorest nations of an important source of income and aggravate poverty."

Replying to a question by IDN on the sidelines of a conference in Berlin on January 24, 2011, Admiral Stavridis said the success of NATO's counter-conspiracy mission was underlined by the fact that the number of successful hijackings by Somali pirates had decreased from 49 in 2010 to 28 in 2011.

Earlier in December he stated in Five Key NATO Events in 2011 posted on the web: "Success rates for (hijacking) attacks have dropped considerably, and there are fewer attacks than during this period last year. Some of the reasons for this include patrolling by NATO, EU, and various national forces at sea; pressure ashore militarily and in the area of development; better practices at sea by civilian mariners (convoys and citadels, for example); and the addition of armed security teams."

The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report revealed on January 19, 2012 that pirate attacks against vessels in East and West Africa accounted for the majority of world attacks in 2011, Of the 439 attacks reported to the IMB in 2011, 275 attacks took place off Somalia on the east coast and in the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa.

The report showed a slight drop in the total number of recorded incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide, comparing the 439 recorded incidents of piracy and armed robbery in 2011 to 445 in 2010. "The falling numbers come after four consecutive years of increased piracy and armed robbery worldwide," the report averred.

It explained that the 802 crew members taken hostage in 2011 also marks a decrease from the four-year high of 1,181 in 2010. "Overall in 2011, there were 45 vessels hijacked, 176 vessels boarded, 113 vessels fired upon and 105 reported attempted attacks. A total of eight crew members were killed throughout the year, the same number as 2010," says the report.

According to the IMB, Somali pirates continue to account for the majority of attacks – approximately 54%. "But while the overall number of Somali incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28."

The overall figures for Somali piracy could have been much higher if it were not for the continued efforts of international naval forces, IMB reports validating the NATO strategist's view. In the last quarter of 2011 alone, pre-emptive strikes by international navies disrupted at least 20 Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) before they could become a threat to commercial fleets. The last quarter of 2010 saw 90 incidents and 19 vessels hijacked; in 2011, those numbers fell to 31 and four, respectively.

“These pre-emptive naval strikes, the hardening of vessels in line with the Best Management Practices (BMP) and the deterrent effect of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), have all contributed to this decrease,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), which has been monitoring piracy worldwide since 1991. "The role of the navies is critical to the anti-piracy efforts in this area."

Although the number of vessels employing and reporting the carriage of PCASP increased in 2011, the regulation and vetting of PCASP still needs to be adequately addressed, Captain Mukundan warned. Until such time as a comprehensive legal framework is in place, owners and Masters should follow the International Maritime Organization and industry guidelines on the carriage of PCASP.

The IMB report shows that Somali pirate attacks were predominantly concentrated within the cross roads of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. However, 2011 marked the first hijacking by Somali pirates of an anchored vessel from within the territorial waters of a foreign State – namely, Oman – highlighting the need for ports and vessels at anchorages in the region to be vigilant.

Elsewhere, Nigeria and Benin continued to be piracy hotspots, according to the report. While 10 attacks were reported in Nigeria, including two hijackings, IMB warns that this number is not representative of the real threat of Nigeria piracy. Underreporting of attacks in Nigeria continues to be a cause for concern, and IMB states that it is aware of at least another 34 unreported incidents in Nigerian waters.

Also in 2011 a probable extension of Nigerian piracy into neighbouring Benin included 20 incidents against tankers, eight of which were hijacked and had cargoes partly stolen. Although the average length of captivity for ships taken off the coasts of Nigeria and Benin tends to be roughly 10 days, compared to six months in Somali hijackings, IMB warns that these attacks can be more violent.♦

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