DUBAI // The key to fighting piracy is to strengthen the navy and coastguard of Somalia and its neighbours to help them control and patrol their own waters, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday.
The UAE has long held that regionally led solutions are vital to fight piracy, and nations must work together to combat the raiders. By identifying specific areas for assistance, the UAE's strategy has been to help develop counter-piracy capabilities and boost the rule of law.
"Central to the UAE's counter-piracy strategy is the recognition that the capability and capacity of countries in the region to combat piracy are varied and at different stages of development," Sheikh Abdullah said ahead of a conference on countering maritime piracy that begins today.
"Determining specific gaps thus allows the UAE to target assistance where it can have the greatest impact, thereby advancing regional partners' security and stability," he said. "The UAE tailors assistance to the specific needs of a country. This is shown, for example, in the support provided to the coast guard and navy of the Seychelles, where the UAE has helped to build facilities and has provided patrol planes."
The Seychelles, a small island nation vulnerable to attacks, has asked for long-term support because of its proximity to Somalia. Over the past few years, the UAE has provided a coastguard headquarters, radar stations, patrol boats and surveillance aircraft.
Anti-piracy conferences in Dubai over the past two years have highlighted the UAE's stance that combating pirates must be backed by development programmes to strengthen local communities.
"By conducting a needs assessment and then helping chart a trajectory towards a comprehensive national strategy, the UAE assists its regional partners in helping themselves," Sheikh Abdullah said.
"This enables countries to develop their own counter-piracy capability, strengthen their rule of law, and protect their sovereignty and territory against the scourge of maritime piracy."
More than 500 delegates, including foreign ministers, heads of global maritime companies and experts, will participate in the two-day summit organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with DP World and Abu Dhabi Ports Company.
Since 2010, Somali pirates have increased their range of operations, attacking ships 2,000 kilometres from their coastline.
But a combination of naval patrols and armed guards on merchant vessels have reduced the number of attacks from 176 in 2011 to 35 until October last year.
Pirates have not held UAE-owned vessels since the release of the chemical tanker MV Royal Grace and its 21 hostages on March 8, after more than a year in captivity.
Experts say although piracy is on the decline, with only three attacks in the region this year, the shipping community must remain vigilant.
"The threat of Somali piracy remains," said P Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau.
"There have been a few months of calm with no piracy activity because of the southwest monsoons, which are now coming to an end. It is absolutely vital that the ships remain vigilant and exercise all the measures that they did before in order to deter the pirates.
"It is also very necessary that the navies remain in this area until the threat of piracy is significantly reduced over a longer period of time. It is very easy for piracy to resume its former levels if the vigilance and response against piracy is stopped."
Sheikh Abdullah also stressed that piracy remained a threat to regional security and global commerce.
He said the conference would focus on continuing the fight against piracy that has caused human suffering and economic damage.
Somali piracy cost governments and the shipping industry about US$7billion (Dh25.7bn) a year, according to a report last year by the advocacy group One Earth Future Foundation.
"Improving the capacity of the navies and coastguards of Somalia and its neighbours will not only substantially diminish pirate attacks, it will also help the region in facing other challenges, such as illegal fishing and human trafficking," Sheikh Abdullah said.
"The international community has come a long way, but we are not there yet."