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POLITICS: U.N. Seeks Collective Action Against Somali Piracy

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2008 (IPS) - The rise in modern-day piracy, mostly off the coasts of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, is triggering a strong collective response from the United Nations.

The 15-member Security Council is scheduled to meet next week to discuss a resolution, which if adopted, would give member states the legitimate right to pursue pirates into Somali territory.

Still, the main thrust of the new resolution, says an Asian diplomat, appears to be an attempt to address the issue of lack of capacity, domestic legislation and clarity on how to dispose of pirates after their capture.

“This weakness has hindered a more robust international response,” he told IPS.

The high-level Security Council meeting, scheduled for Dec. 16, will also be addressed by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State of Condoleezza Rice, highlighting the added importance given by the United States to the problem of piracy in the high seas.

The 27-member European Union (EU) has just launched Operation Atalanta, described as an anti-piracy task force to protect merchant ships- specifically off the coasts of Somalia.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is currently escorting World Food Programme (WFP) vessels, which have also come under attacks, carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia.

Last year, over 60 ships were reportedly attacked by pirates off Somalia, about twice the number in 2007. And according to U.N. figures, some of the pirates have walked away with more than 40 million dollars in ransom this year alone.

The draft resolution, which is currently in circulation among the 15 members of the Security Council, affirms that the authorisation provided in the resolution will “apply only with respect to the situation in Somalia and shall not affect the rights or obligations or responsibilities of member States under international law.”

These include any rights or obligations under the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), “with respect to any other situation, and underscores in particular that this resolution shall not be considered as establishing customary international law.”

The provisions have been included to refute any criticism that the right to pursue pirates could cover territories other than Somalia.

The draft resolution also encourages all states and regional organisations battling piracy to establish an international cooperation mechanism to act as a common point of contact between and among states on all aspects of combating piracy off Somalia’s coast.

It also calls for the establishment of a centre in the region to coordinate information relevant to piracy, and share in the gathering and analysis of financial information relevant to the financing of piratical acts, the payment of ransom, and the downstream use of such payments.

According to the resolution, there has been a dramatic increase in the incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia in the last six months.

Pirate attacks have become more sophisticated and daring with an expansion of their geographic scope, notably evidenced by the hijacking of the M/V Sirius Star 500 nautical miles off the coast of Kenya and subsequent unsuccessful attempts east of Tanzania.

A two-day U.N.-sponsored meeting in Kenya early this week also emphasised the need for peace and stability in the Horn of Africa “as a durable solution to the problem” of piracy.

Last week, the Security Council called on member states and regional organisations to deploy naval ships and military aircraft to fight piracy, which it said “was impeding U.N. efforts to feed millions of hungry civilians in the strife-torn country.”

Last month, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a U.N. agency based in London, told the Security Council that piracy was a matter of grave concern. He proposed a series of actions the Security Council might consider taking to address the situation.

He called on member states interested in the safety and environmentally sound function of shipping activities “to take part actively in the fight against piracy and armed robbery against ships (including ‘mother ships’) off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.”

Mitropoulos said that IMO was particularly concerned about protecting seafarers, fishermen and passengers on ships sailing off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

He also wanted to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid by ships chartered by the WFP; and to preserve the integrity of the shipping lane through the Gulf of Aden, given its strategic importance and significance to shipping and trade east and west of the Suez Canal.

Notwithstanding IMO’s primary concern for the safety of seafarers, he said, the volume of trade transported through the Gulf of Aden makes it imperative that this shipping lane is adequately protected against any acts that might disrupt the flow of traffic through it.

He said that, with over 12 percent of the total volume of oil transported by sea using the Gulf of Aden, widespread diversions around the Cape of Good Hope, to avoid the trouble spot, would bring about a series of negative repercussions.

“Such diversions would almost double the length of a typical voyage from the Gulf to Europe thereby increasing fuel consumption, emissions and transport costs, which would have to be passed on eventually to consumers everywhere,” he warned.

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