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Press Conference on Meeting of Contact Group on Piracy off Coast of Somalia, 14 July 2011

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

With pirates and the networks that supported them still outfoxing foreign naval patrols, kidnapping seafarers and disrupting shipping lanes, representatives of the diplomatic Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia today said that combating the scourge required scaled-up resources, enhanced land- and sea-based strategies and more political commitment on the part of the Somali Government.

Mary Seet-Cheng, Senior Specialist Adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, which is chairing the two year-old Group’s ninth plenary meeting at Headquarters, said the international community was working hard to address both the symptoms and root causes of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. However, piracy was still a threat to seafarers and vital shipping lanes, as pirates had begun extending their area of operations beyond the Somali coast and had stepped up their violent acts against ships and their passengers.

“While the number of ships being held this year has dipped slightly, it is clear that much work remains to be done,” she said, stressing that comprehensively tackling piracy demanded not only dealing with pirates themselves, but addressing the conditions from which it arose, through efforts on land as well as at sea, combining military, law enforcement and development activity. She emphasized that the act of piracy “is only one piece of the puzzle”, so solving it required the active involvement of Somali authorities, backed by the wider international community, to help bolster the rule of law and socio-economic development in that war-torn nation.

She said that in the course of today’s discussions, members of the Contact Group and its four working groups had also recognized the need to address the scourge’s economic aspects and consider means to set up programmes that targeted pirate leaders and financial networks that supported piracy and other criminal enterprises at sea. They had also reiterated their concern about the increasing use by pirates of hijacked vessels with hostages onboard as “mother ships”. She told reporters that the Group planned to issue a communiqué at the end of the meeting.

The Contact Group, a voluntary international diplomatic effort, provides a forum for exchange of information and ideas, and coordinates the efforts of States and relevant organizations through four working groups: working group 1 is tasked with promoting military and operational coordination between navies, information sharing and regional capacity-building; working group 2 deals with judicial issues; working group 3 is tasked with strengthening shipping self-awareness and other capabilities; and working group 4 deals with public information.

Chris Holtby, Deputy Head, Security Policy Department of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which chairs working group 1, said that while his panel coordinated the political support and resources that enabled military actors to do their jobs, it also provided support to widening the international anti-piracy coalition.

To that end, it was bringing in new partners, including not only those that provided warships, but those that could provide security teams that could ride aboard ships. “You don’t need to be a big military power to participate in the fight against piracy,” he added. Working group 1 was also supporting capacity-building, working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to help countries, especially those in the East Africa region, to rehabilitate their prisons and strengthen their judicial systems and coast guards to better combat piracy.

The Chair of working group 2, Mr. Thomas Winkler, Legal Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, said that over the past two and a half years, his panel had put together a “tool box” that would, for example, help bring together States that might wish to enter into agreements on anti-piracy measures.

Donna Hopkins, Coordinator of the Counter-Piracy and Maritime Security Bureau of Political-Military Affairs of the United States Department of State, said that working group 3 helped strengthen ship awareness and self-protection against pirates. It also focused on the implementation of best-management practices by all ships transiting dangerous waters. In addition, it worked with the international community and the maritime industry to illuminate the range of issues associated with the use of armed private security, “which is a complex and controversial subject”.

The last working group Chair, Ashraf Mohsen, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister, Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said the Contact Group was an excellent voluntary mechanism that had been established to combat the very serious problem. Success would only be achieved by strengthening international cooperation and having the political will to do so.

Also attending the press conference was Captain Keith Blount, Co-Chair of Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE), a 3-year-old mechanism of meetings aimed at coordinating and “de-conflicting” activities between the countries and coalitions involved in military counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean. SHADE met every three months in Bahrain to discuss tactical-level, military responses to piracy.

He said there had been some positive results, largely through cooperation with maritime industry actors and liaising with nations determined to tackle piracy. However, he described piracy as an “agile industry” with crafty operators who continued to change their patterns to sustain their financially lucrative enterprise. The military was determined to respond, but it needed more resources to meet the challenge.

Responding to a question about the use of private armed security forces onboard ships, including the fact that no commercial vessel employing its own security had been successfully hijacked, Ms. Hopkins said the Contact Group was examining the practical, legal and financial implications of using armed private security to try to “bring some rationality to the discussion”. The issue was the subject of “intense discussion” among a wide number of States and organizations, she added.

In his response to a question, Mr. Holiday reiterated the Contact Group’s view that military action was not the solution to ending piracy off the coast of Somalia; rule of law and judicial structures in that country must be built up. That included, among others, establishing Somalia’s control of its waters, which would ensure sustained control of its natural resources, as well as address very real problems of overfishing and illegal waste dumping.

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