The decision by the International Maritime Organization to address the issue is, he says, “timely and important”
Ki-moon was speaking at the launch of an action plan to promote the 2011 IMO World Maritime Day theme: ‘Piracy: orchestrating the response’.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the specialist United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping, and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. The body says it has been combating maritime piracy for some time and a series of measures, developed with the cooperation of the littoral States and the wider industry, helped significantly reduce piracy in the hot spots of the late 1990s and early 2000s: the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.
More recently the problem has manifested itself off the Somalian coast. IMO secretary-general Efthimios E. Mitropoulos said: “Piracy and kidnapping have blighted the maritime community for too long and it is seafarers who bear the brunt. We believe that we can use the experience gained and the successes achieved in reducing piracy elsewhere to good effect in the current arena but to do so requires a well orchestrated response.” Unified voices Mitropoulos and Ban Ki-moon were joined at the launch by Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme; Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Robert Lorenz-Meyer, president of BIMCO, representing the shipping industry; and David Cockroft, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, representing seafarers. All support the IMO initiative.
Fedotov said: “It is clear that the only viable long-term solution to the Somali piracy problem is to restore law and order in Somalia, including in its waters. It is also clear that this solution is some years off and will require concerted and coordinated international effort. UNODC’s counter-piracy programme focuses on supporting regional prosecutions and on rebuilding Somalia’s criminal justice capacity.”
Sheeran focused on the humanitarian aspects of the problem when she noted the success of naval escorts in protecting food aid for Somalia. She also highlighted new challenges created by the worsening situation: “The presence of Somali pirates in an ever expanding area is of great concern because they threaten not just food bound directly for Somalia, but our food transiting through the ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salam and Beira for vital operations in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places with humanitarian needs.”
Speakers at the launch of IMO’s action plan also spoke of the economic cost of piracy. “Ransom payments adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars have created a ‘pirate economy’ in some areas making them more resistant to efforts to develop alternative livelihoods. Economies throughout East Africa and beyond are experiencing the fallout,” Ki-moon commented.
Lorenz-Meyer said: “The attacks are not only attacks on ships, but also on the global supply chain in one of the world’s most vital sea lanes. They threaten a supply line of vital interests to the international community.”
Cockroft said many crew members were at breaking point because of the stress of passing through affected areas. “If the risks cannot be eliminated, seafarers will demand not to sail into the area at all and responsible ship owners will support them,” he said.
Mitropoulos said IMO’s action plan is aimed at an escalating problem: “In the past 12 months alone there have been 286 piracy-related incidents off Somalia. They have resulted in 67 hijacked ships, with 1,130 seafarers on board. At present, 714 seafarers are being held for ransom on board 30 ships.”
This year IMO will use information-sharing; coordination of military and civil efforts, and the development and implementation of regional initiatives (such as the IMO-led Djibouti Code of Conduct) to promote increased cooperation between states, regions and organisations in order to reduce the risk of attacks on ships. A complex issue IMO’s action plan will build on previous efforts to tackle the problem. Through the Djibouti Code of Conduct, for example, information-sharing centres are being established in Yemen, Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as a regional training centre in Djibouti. In partnership with the UNODC, IMO is helping to develop the legal framework necessary to prosecute pirates
“Although piracy manifests itself at sea the roots of the problem are to be found ashore,” said Ki-moon. “This is a complex issue. Piracy is a criminal offence driven by economic hardship. It flourishes in the absence of effective law enforcement and the only truly successful way to address the problem in the long term is through a strategy that focuses on deterrence, security, the rule of law and development.”