UN Secretary General leads anti-piracy initiative


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for international cooperation in addressing the ‘global menace’ of piracy, at the unveiling of a new action plan to improve the piracy situation for seafarers, maritime stakeholders and civilians.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of the International Maritime Organization’s 2011 World Maritime Day theme ‘Piracy: Orchestrating the Response’, Mr Ban described piracy as a ‘complex issue’ caused by economic hardship, which “flourishes in the absence of effective law enforcement”. He added: “The only truly successful way to address the problem in the long term is through a strategy that focuses on deterrence, security, the rule of law and development.”

Unveiling its new strategy, the IMO presented a six point action plan, which aims to build on current anti-piracy initiatives by fostering greater cooperation between states, regions, organisations and industry, for a more targeted and successful global response. Mr Ban said: “Piracy: Orchestrating the Response is a timely and important initiative. We need to assess what is working, what is missing and what needs to be done and to be improved. Piracy manifests itself at sea but the roots of the problem are to be found ashore.”

Mr Ban expressed his concern, particularly regarding piracy activity off the coast of Somalia and said at present, 30 ships and 700 people are being held hostage. He described a ‘pirate economy’ which has emerged in parts of Somalia, making locals unwilling to seek alternative livelihoods. He added: “Piracy is hampering trade, shipping lanes and obstructing humanitarian assistance. This needs co-ordinated international efforts – we encourage the Somali government to strengthen institutional capacity and the rule of law.”

The key aims of the action plan are to increase political pressures to release the hostages of pirates; to review IMO guidelines to Administrations and seafarers while encouraging best management practices; to promote support and coordination from navies; to foster anti-piracy cooperation between states, organisations, regions and industry; to assist states in bringing to justice those who commit acts of piracy and to provide care for piracy victims and their relatives.

Introducing the initiative, Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary General, International Maritime Organization, said piracy had “blighted the maritime community for too long”. He emphasised the importance of tackling the root causes of piracy through the provision of assistance to states and the development of their maritime going enforcement capabilities. He said: “In the case of Somalia, we intend to contribute in any way possible, including through the establishment of a coastal monitoring and law enforcement force, for the creation of a state of stability at both sides of the Horn of Africa coastline which will, in due course, have a beneficial impact on the overall situation.”

Mr Mitropoulos also praised regional initiatives such as the Djibouti Code of Conduct – an agreement between 17 states from the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean, which marks cooperation in working to suppress piracy.

In his address, Robert Lorenz-Meyer, President, BIMCO, described the IMO’s action plan as “timely, highly appropriate and welcome”. He added: “The international community must act at a strategic level and must resolve to restore law and order. Individual states must enact a national legislation to allow their naval forces to intercept pirates with confidence. The necessary legal framework for arrest, prosecution and sentencing of these criminals must be in place and firmly enforced.” Mr Lorenz-Meyer also criticised the practice of ‘catch and release’ and said apprehended pirates must be brought to trial.

Fellow speaker Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, World Food Programme, described the danger of piracy in preventing food aid from reaching communities in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. She said: “Maintaining support for the escorts that allow the humanitarian ships to come through is vital. There is no alternative route for these vital lifelines, moving billions of rations to the world’s most vulnerable people”

David Cockroft, General Secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation, began his speech by citing the annual economic cost of piracy as $12 billion and emphasised the problems of increased ransom, insurance and security costs. He said the human impact of piracy on seafarers must not be underestimated and added: “If the risk cannot be eliminated, seafarers will demand not to sail into the areas and responsible ship owners will support them.”

Mr Cockroft also criticised flags of convenience, including Panama, Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda and Liberia, for failing to adequately protect their vessels from piracy. He said: “Those states which gain major financial benefits by operating a ‘convenient’ shipping register, should take responsibility for seafarers on their ships more seriously. Naval forces would be ideal but as a minimum, they should contribute significant financial and political support to build the counter-piracy infrastructure, including taking the lead in providing the means to prosecute and imprison pirates who attack their ships and ensure all military forces have free access to them.”