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Our commitment to ending impunity for pirate gangs

Piracy may be the criminal growth industry of the 21st century. But the world must not let discussions regarding the costs of maritime piracy hijack the search for longer-term, sustainable solutions on land.

This month, our armed forces, in co-ordination with the US Fifth Fleet, successfully stormed and freed the MV Arrilah-I, a UAE-flagged ship seized by pirates east of Oman in the Arabian Sea. The individuals suspected of hijacking the ship were returned to the UAE to face trial. The ship's crew - seafarers who had endured the psychological pressure of days under capture - were rescued.

This historic action demonstrated to the world the UAE's commitment to ending the culture of impunity enjoyed by the pirate gangs that threaten our region's sea-lanes and indeed its livelihood as a centre of commerce and trade. The suspects captured in the attack on the MV Arrilah-I will now stand trial in the UAE's courts, making the UAE one of only a handful of countries to actively prosecute pirates. We encourage other countries to follow-up effective military action with judicial responsibilities.

The UAE's successful military operation reflects the extensive investment that the UAE has already made into counter-piracy operations. The International Maritime Organisation estimates the annual costs of piracy at between US$9 billion and $12 billion, which includes an estimated two billion in costs for states contributing forces to the international military response. The freeing of the MV Arrilah-I, and other successful international operations, is a dividend of that investment.

But the experience of the MV Arrilah-I also represents a worrying trend: In the first three months of 2011, the threat from maritime piracy has both escalated and intensified. Despite a heightened international response, there has been a rise in the number of attacks this year - and not just off the coast of Somalia. In fact, the number of attacks grew for the first time in two years in South East Asia. While the increase in attacks on the coast of West Africa has alarmed observers.

Many fear that piracy is becoming the criminal "growth industry" of the 21st century. As maritime piracy has become more profitable, so pirate gangs are upgrading and modernising their tactics. Today's pirates make use of sophisticated technology, and are able to adapt their operational and tactical patterns and procedures faster than many navies and coast guards can respond. In 2011 pirates are expecting to enjoy their busiest and most profitable year on record.

This rise in attacks has been coupled with a troubling increase in violence. Earlier this year, the world was outraged by the murder of four American tourists whose boat was seized by pirates off the coast of Oman. Such heinous acts are accompanied by an intensification in the suffering of captured crews and passengers. More than 640 hostages are currently being held captive in Somalia at land and sea - some of them children. Some of these victims have been held as long as two years.

However, the greatest victims of maritime piracy remain the people of Somalia. The insecurity fuelled by the criminal economy of Somalia-based pirates threatens the provision of aid by the World Food Programme. It also deprives the Somali people of long-term job-creating investments that can lead to stabilising development for the whole society. Others are at risk as well. If the piracy threat continues unchallenged, other countries could slip toward piracy economies in much the same way.

We must not let discussions regarding the costs of tackling maritime piracy hijack the search for a longer-term, sustainable solution to piracy. And this solution is one that must be reached on land for Somalia. It will require ensuring that young people in Somalia have bright futures and livelihoods, so that they are not led towards lives of crime or violence. This is why the UAE has urged the international community to build a comprehensive strategy to support the government of Somalia in developing a clear political and development road map capable of restoring peace, security and stability for all the people of Somalia. Although naval operations are an important aspect of countering piracy, helping the authorities in Somalia to reestablish rule of law is as important as enforcing security at sea.

However, resources available for such development projects have been severely limited. In fact, the Trust Fund of the international Counter-Piracy Contact Group - 70 per cent of which is channeled to projects in Somalia - will no longer be financially viable if it does not receive urgent additional funding.

That is why the UAE has agreed, at the request of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to co-chair with the UN an international donors meeting on the margins of the high-level counter-piracy conference that the UAE will host next week in Dubai. This donor session will represent a historic opportunity for all stakeholders to support ongoing international counter piracy efforts, and ensure that the costs we are all incurring from the response do not affect our longer-term commitment to the cure. The UAE has already indicated that it will make a substantial contribution to the Trust Fund, and encourages its international partners and concerned industry leaders to do the same.

At a time when political agendas are filled with a myriad of equally important issues, the international community must nevertheless remain vigilant against the growing threat from maritime piracy. It is crucial that we now step up the pace. To this end, the UAE looks forward to hosting all its international partners this month, from governments and industry, in this high-level collaborative effort that will advance the global struggle against maritime piracy.


Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed is the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates

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