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Press Conference by Chief of Staff of European Union Anti-Piracy Operation on Somali Coast

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

28 January 2010

A top official of the European Union naval operation working to squash piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast lauded this afternoon the Chinese Government’s decision to add a warship to that operation.

“This is extremely good news and will allow us to surge other assets into the Somali basin where pirate activity remains at an all-time high,” Captain Paul Chivers, Chief of Staff of Operation Atalanta, said during a Headquarters news conference.

China’s naval force, which until now had just escorted its own vessels, had stated its intention to install a vessel in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), a protected set of shipping lanes in the heavily trafficked Gulf of Aden, he said. He expected that, within the next month to six weeks, there would be a minimum of one Chinese ship on a permanent basis in the IRTC.

Until now China had navigated its ships outside that corridor, but it had agreed to convoy many of them inside it from now on, Mr. Chivers said. At least six ships were required to make the IRTC safe.

Having a permanent presence in the IRTC would also make China eligible to co-chair the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction meeting (SHADE), in which navies and organizations pool information and efforts to counter piracy off the Somali coast. There was no set date, however, for when China would assume that role, Mr. Chivers said.

Endorsed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in March 2009, the IRTC comprises forces from the Coalition Maritime Force (CMF), the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect merchant ships. It also encourages shippers to use those lanes and register their vessels’ speed, crews and freeboards -- all critical factors in pirates’ ability to take them over.

The IRTC uses that information to protect the most vulnerable vessels, as well as provide navigational warnings to help all ships avoid known pirate groups. It also employs maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft in Djibouti, Seychelles and Mombasa to track pirates and hand them over to legal authorities for prosecution.

That corridor, coupled with the fact that up to 75 per cent of all shippers were complying with self-protection measures known as best management practices, had helped to reduce the number of successful attacks in the Gulf of Aden to zero in the last five months of 2009, Mr. Chivers said. Two attacks occurred in early January.

At present, nine major vessels with some 230 crew that were hijacked off the east Somali coast were awaiting release, Mr. Chivers said. Another six to seven smaller vessels were under pirate control. Ships were held for a minimum of six weeks, on average.

The number of ships pirated overall, including in the Somali basin and the Gulf of Aden, dropped from 2008 to 2009, Mr. Chivers said. But, pirate activity in the Somali basin alone had grown exponentially since 2002, even though the number of successful attacks had dropped.

“It would be dangerous to assume that we’ve overcome the [ Gulf of Aden] threat,” Mr. Chivers said. “All of the military need to be careful, as does the merchant community, of complacency.”

The European Union set up its Operation Atalanta in December 2008 after several high-profile hijackings, notably the capture of Saudi-owned crude oil carrier Sirius Star near the Kenyan port of Mombasa. In accordance with Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816, 1838 and 1846 adopted in 2008, the operation helps deter, prevent and repress piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast, including by detaining and prosecuting pirates, if enough evidence against them exists.

It primarily protects World Food Programme (WFP) food shipments to Somalia, but also works to deter rampant attacks on merchant and civilian vessels in the wider Gulf of Aden region, no matter the flag they fly. It has already enabled WFP ships carrying 320,000 tons of food for some 1.5 million people to arrive safely at port, Mr. Chivers said.

Through its agreement with the Governments of Kenya and Seychelles, Operation Atalanta had detained some 13 piracy groups and destroyed some 40 skiffs, Mr. Chivers said.

Envisioned as a one-year effort, its mandate was extended to at least two years, and talks were under way to decide whether to extend it further, Mr. Chivers said.

Answering a correspondent’s concern about criticism of naval forces picking up pirates and then setting them free, Mr. Chivers said the European Union mission turned in suspected pirates to Kenyan and Seychelles authorities under their respective shared agreements. But, solid evidence linking the suspects to the piracy was needed to detain and prosecute them in the first country to pick them up. As pirates usually came from the region where they attacked, it was better to keep them in that region for prosecution.

Concerning best management practice, he said they entailed, among other things, shippers registering their routes and destinations with the Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa, sailing at fast speeds and blocking gangways with wood. Shippers that implemented those practices were almost never the victims of piracy, he said.

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For information media • not an official record

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