x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Arab states urged to unite against Somali pirates

A senior officer suggests a regional coordination centre, satellite tracking and joint security teams to protect strategic sea cargo routes.

ABU DHABI // Arab countries were urged yesterday to work together to stamp out Somali piracy.

"There is a need for a unified Arab strategy and approach," said Navy Col Mahmoud Al Zarooni.

He suggested establishing a regional coordination centre to share vital information, using satellites to track pirate vessels and evolving a mechanism to link Arab ports with information and data.

"Security teams can also be created and trained on how to respond; there can be divisions into different zones with checkpoints when ships pass through," he said.

"There should also be established legal procedures and courts to prosecute pirates. This is all required because the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea are strategic passages for international trade and an important oil route to the rest of the world. We need a coordinated approach so there are no more negative consequences of piracy to international trade."

Col Al Zarooni was speaking at a conference in the capital on the challenges of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

With only three attacks in the region this year, piracy is on the decline. According to a paper submitted by James Larocco, director of the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies, five ships were hijacked in 35 attacks in 2012.

Piracy in the region became a serious concern in 2008 when Somali pirates attacked 111 ships, of which they hijacked 42 and secured ransoms of up to Dh11 million per ship. The attacks continued with 25 hijackings in 2011 when pirates earned approximately Dh18m per ship.

Dr Ahmed Salem Al Wahishi, director of the Yemen International Affairs Centre, backed the idea of a regional centre.

"There can be training and sharing of experience because information is valuable," Dr Al Wahishi said. "Using satellite technology helped countries monitor suspicious boats in the Strait of Malacca; we could do the same and take action before an attack."

The repercussions of piracy are being felt in Yemen, which has been paying an economic price.

"There are less ships coming to Yemen," Mr Al Wahishi said. "Insurance premiums per ship have gone up 10 times from US$900 to $9,000. Ships find other routes even if it is longer. Ports are not functioning, people have lost jobs and companies have gone bankrupt. This could become a common problem and we must continue to face it with joint concrete action."

Mr Al Wahishi expressed gratitude to the UAE for supplying vessels to build a strong coastguard.

The UAE has also provided the Seychelles with a coastguard headquarters, radar stations, patrol boats and surveillance aircraft.

Dr Martin N Murphy, an American analyst on piracy and terrorism, said the region should take on more responsibility.

"It would be natural for the nations of the Gulf to look to their own resources for maritime security," he said. He believed foreign navies would not necessarily be engaged in maritime security for much longer.

"The cost of naval protection is unsustainable," he said. "There have been no pronouncements but when I look at how the budgets are going, one has to raise the question whether navies here will still be chasing pirates in the long-term. Ship self-protection is more effective than naval response."

Regional partnerships can restrict attacks, experts said.

"The UAE should continue playing the role it currently is because countries in the region look to it as the leader that gives voice to these issues," said Dr John R Ballard, dean of the National Defence College.

"The UAE contributes resources, demonstrates commitment and provides expertise. Piracy is something we need to be continually vigilant about."

Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, which organised the conference, said the country's strategy was based on a strong military response, prosecution of pirates and helping the Somali people.

"Despite decline in attacks, we feel the need to keep the focus on piracy so it will not reappear with its ugly face," he said. "Our international obligation is to deal with challenges that threaten international security and threaten the rule of law."

rtalwar@thenational.ae