|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Contact Group on Piracy off Somali Coast
A coalition of States working to end piracy and armed robbery off the Somali Coast held its sixth meeting today at United Nations Headquarters and briefed correspondents afterward on the operational challenges they were facing, among them the vast distances of ocean that needed protecting and the lack of legal capacity among most countries of the region.
The coalition — known as the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia — is studying ways to better protect commercial vessels, particularly those carrying Africa-bound humanitarian aid, through one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, said Francisco Verros (Greece), Chair of the Contact Group’s plenary meeting.
“We really think that some good answers can be provided,” he said. In recent months, pirate attacks had become more sophisticated and daring, spreading from the Gulf of Aden — a heavily trafficked corridor sandwiched between Yemen and Somalia — to hundreds of miles offshore in the Indian Ocean.
“This is a major operational challenge. Boats and ships are welcomed and useful, but they are not enough to cover vast areas of the ocean,” he said, stressing the need for more helicopters and planes to patrol the western part of the Indian Ocean, near Seychelles, which was increasingly under attack.
Exacerbating that problem was the fact that most countries in the region lacked the legal and juridical capacity to properly prosecute maritime criminals, he said.
Created in January 2009, the Contact Group develops and coordinates international political and military responses to piracy off the Somali coast. The coalition patrolling the threatened areas includes the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), comprising ships from more than 20 nations.
On a question about the proposed creation of a Pan-Arab task force to join the European Union, NATO and the CMF, he said indeed it would be a welcome development. He lauded the fact that China and India, which in the past had launched independent counter-piracy initiatives, were increasingly working with the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) system, a multinational effort.
Concerning the work of the recently established Trust Fund to support such initiatives, he said it had approved 70 projects valued at $2 million.
On a question about the Russian Federation’s recent capturing and reported mistreatment of Somali pirates, some of whom were said to have died, he said respect for basic human rights was paramount. The legal ramifications of that and other pirate acts were being studied by the Contact Group and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but to his knowledge no investigation had been launched into the Russian incident.
Regarding impunity for captured teenage pirates, due to their age, he said whether they faced prosecution depended on the laws of the country where they were seized.
Regarding the rights of fisherman, he said piracy had exacerbated their poverty and that socio-economic development could alleviate it. He added that a major player had announced it would cooperate with the Somali Government to create an exclusive economic zone off the Somali coast, in which fishermen could fish for their own livelihood.
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