In late January, Republic of Korea navy commandos rescued 21 hostages, including eight Koreans, on board the vessel Samho Jewelry in the Arabian Sea. As a result of this operation, five pirates were captured alive; all are currently on trial in Korea.
Though unrelated, the Korean response to the challenge of Somali piracy in January was very similar to the UAE-led rescue mission on April 2. In that raid, UAE forces, in coordination with the US Fifth Fleet, successfully stormed and freed the crew of the MV Arrilah-I. Pirates captured in that incident are also awaiting trial in civilian courts.
Such robust actions taken by our two nations reflect the international community's firm stance towards the piracy threat. But it also illustrates how important it is for the nations hardest hit by this scourge to better coordinate actions together, and devise land-based solutions to bring pirates to justice.
As bilateral relations between the UAE and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have moved closer in the fields of infrastructure projects, trade and nuclear power, efforts have also increased to find a shared response to Somali piracy. Amid this atmosphere of cooperation, the pirates captured in January were transported to Korea aboard a jet generously provided by the government of the UAE.
The UAE and Korea are cooperating in maritime security in the Gulf of Aden under the command of the Combined Maritime Forces, in which both take part.
Furthermore, our two countries are exploring ways to collectively close down piracy-related financial flows, one of the key elements of an overall international counter-piracy strategy.
Finally, Korea and the UAE are consulting over the creation of an institutional framework for mutual legal assistance between our two nations. Once created, this legal framework is expected to contribute to strengthening bilateral cooperation on criminal cases related to piracy.
All of these efforts take funding, and our nations are pouring money into solutions. For instance, at a recent international meeting on piracy held in Dubai, donations from the UAE and Korea accounted for more than a third of the $5 million (Dh18.4 million) raised to replenish a UN anti-piracy fund founded in 2010, with the ROK contributing $500,000.
Despite these and other measures by the international community, the problem of Somali piracy continues to increase. Maritime piracy hit an all-time high in the first quarter of this year, with a total of 142 attacks recorded worldwide. The majority of these attacks occurred off the Somali coast, with 97 in the past three months, representing a significant surge from the 35 in the same period last year.
As of March, Somali pirates were holding hostage 596 crew members from 28 ships. Korean and UAE ships are among the hardest hit.
In an effort to tackle a problem that costs an estimated $12 billion annually, the UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions aimed at aligning the international community in a concerted response against Somali piracy. In addition, 60 member states, including the UAE and the Republic of Korea, participate in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) to help plans solutions to the piracy epidemic. Shipping companies are increasingly adopting proven "best management practices" to reduce the risk of pirate attacks.
These are welcome initiatives, but more must be done to tackle the challenges. As both Seoul and Abu Dhabi recognise, failure is not an option.
As one of the world's major flag states and a country heavily dependent on international sea-borne trade, the Republic of Korea has been actively participating in the international counter-piracy campaign. It has dispatched a destroyer to the Gulf of Aden for patrol and convoy escort purposes. Further, an ad hoc meeting on the financial aspects of Somali piracy is scheduled to be hosted in Seoul in late June of this year.
The UAE is also showing leadership. At the UAE-hosted conference last month, where I represented the Korean government, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, demonstrated the nation's commitment to finding solutions and protecting the free movement of global shipping lines.
The significance of the conference can be outlined in numerous ways. First, the UAE-led initiative to enhance the Gulf region's activism in global counter-piracy efforts came at a most opportune time, when Somali pirate attacks have reached an unprecedented level. The conference constituted a concerted effort by all participants to identify ways to halt the recent surge in pirate attacks by taking definite and decisive measures.
But the conference also reminded us that the answer to piracy ultimately lies onshore. What's needed is a comprehensive strategy, one that deals not just with the direct threat posed by piracy in the littoral and open waters off the Horn of Africa, but one that addresses causal factors on land as well.
Most importantly, the event helped bring nations and industry groups together to forge lasting and valuable partnerships that will strengthen the fight against Somali piracy. As the Korea-UAE strategic partnership has demonstrated, the most effective approach to this problem is enhanced cooperation. Much more work is needed, but policing shipping routes and bringing pirates to justice is a responsibility that is better shared.
Moon Hayong is a deputy minister in the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade