The International Maritime Organisation speaks to us about how it plans to deal with bandits around Africa's horn.
When did piracy off the Somali coast become a problem and why?
The first hijacking of a ship in waters off the coast of Somalia took place in June 2002 and was an isolated incident.
The issue started drawing global attention in June 2005 as a result of the hijacking of a ship carrying food aid to Somalia under the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The hijackers demanded a ransom be paid for the release of the ship, its crew and cargo. The ship was released after being held for 100 days. Following that incident, other ships, including ones operating under the WFP and carrying food aid to Somalia, were also attacked and some were hijacked.
In response to the emerging situation in 2005 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) assembly adopted a resolution expressing the organisation’s concern and appealing to all parties that might be able to assist to take action to ensure that all acts or attempted acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships were terminated. This was conveyed, through the UN secretary general, to the UN Security Council.
This resulted, in March 2006, in a UN Security Council presidential statement encouraging “member states, the naval vessels and military aircrafts of which operate in international waters and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia, to be vigilant to any incident of piracy and to take appropriate action to protect merchant shipping, in particular the transportation of humanitarian aid, against any such act, in line with relevant international law”. During the latter part of 2006 there was a significant drop in the number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in waters off the coast of Somalia.
But since the beginning of 2007 there has again been a worrying increase in the number of reported incidents.
Since 1991 Somalia has been unable to establish an effective government. The minister of foreign affairs of the transitional federal government of Somalia has stated before the UN General Assembly that Somalia “has no capacity to interdict or patrol its long coastline to ensure security of the sea lanes” and has called “on the international community to cooperate with the transitional federal government in the fight against sea piracy”. This conforms with the provisions of United Nations Security Council resolution 1816, which was adopted in June this year.
How has the piracy affected the provision of humanitarian aid to Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa?
We understand that it has been seriously affected. In 2007 Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme, and IMO secretary general Efthimios Mitropoulos wrote to the secretary general of Nato proposing the formalisation of a coordination mechanism between the three organisations.
This would systematically provide naval operational centres in the region with the details of merchant ships charted to deliver humanitarian aid to Somalia on behalf of the UN system.
The coordination of efforts will facilitate the task of naval assets operating in the region of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean adjacent to the Somali coast in undertaking the tracking of and, where necessary, the provision of assistance to merchant vessels carrying urgently needed humanitarian aid.