World Maritime Day 2011Piracy: Orchestrating the ResponseA message from the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
As a manifestation of its overall concern about safeguarding human life at sea, the Organization has chosen, as the theme for this year’s World Maritime Day, to highlight the efforts it has been making, over several years, to meet the challenges of modern-day piracy and, in so doing, generate a broader, global response to eradicate it. The intention has also been to complement and continue work in the spirit of last year’s theme, which was dedicated to seafarers.
From the early 1980s until recently, the anti-piracy campaign of IMO was focused on the traditional hot spots of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and the South China Sea. Through a series of measures, developed and implemented with the strong and much appreciated co-operation of the littoral States and the unreserved support of the shipping industry, the scourge of piracy in those waters has significantly reduced nowadays.
However, this thorny issue has lately manifested itself in other parts of the world, most notably – but not exclusively – in the waters off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean. Ships carrying oil out of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman are now firmly within the sights of pirates, who have become bolder, more audacious, more aggressive and violent and seem to be better organized than ever before.
All these disconcerting and worrying developments have, if anything, strengthened our determination to meet the challenge, as we believe that we can use the experience gained and the successes achieved in reducing piracy elsewhere in the world to good effect in the current arena too – but, to do so, requires a well devised and coordinated response.
Kidnap and ransom is the modus operandi in the Somali case and, in a continuously fluctuating situation, there are several hundred seafarers currently being held hostage on board hijacked ships, with their time in captivity averaging six months.
A recent study has revealed the shocking statistics that, during 2010 alone, 4,185 seafarers were attacked by pirates using firearms, even rocket propelled grenades; 1,090 were taken hostage; and 516 were used as human shields. No fewer than 488 were reported suffering significant psychological or physical abuse.
Moreover, while innocent seafarers bear the brunt of these crimes, the world economy suffers too – an annual cost that is now estimated to be between 7 billion and 12 billion US dollars. And, with more than 12 per cent of the total volume of oil transported by sea flowing through it, the strategic importance of the Gulf of Aden can be severely affected, while ships, electing to divert via the Cape of Good Hope to avoid being attacked by pirates, face significantly longer voyages with all the associated costs and environmental consequences.
It is for all these reasons that IMO has decided to make combating piracy not only the theme for World Maritime Day but also a central theme of its work this year and for as long as necessary. To this effect, we have developed a multi-faceted action plan designed to address the problem at several different levels and are proceeding with its implementation in an orchestrated manner – a reflection of the fact that the problem has become too entrenched and deep-rooted to be solved by any single entity.
The United Nations, alliances (political and defence) of States, Governments acting collectively or individually, military forces, shipping companies, ship operators and ships’ crews, all have a crucial part to play in order to rid the world of the threat posed by piracy in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.
To alleviate this unacceptable situation, no effort should be spared. Shipping companies must ensure that their ships rigorously apply the IMO guidance and industry-developed Best Management Practices in their entirety, so that, when venturing into the western Indian Ocean region, they comply with all the recommended measures: no ship is invulnerable, in particular those with relatively low freeboards and slow steaming speeds. And Governments need to back up their oft-stated concern over the situation by deploying military and other resources commensurate, in numbers and technology, with the scale of the problem and with a realistic chance of dealing with it effectively.
While IMO has positioned itself in the epicentre of the concerted efforts being made, it cannot alone supply an instant solution to the issue – particularly since, although piracy manifests itself at sea, the roots of the problem are to be found ashore. Nevertheless, through our action plan and other initiatives, and in collaboration with other interested parties, equally determined and committed as ourselves, we feel confident we will be able to make a difference where the problem is being most acutely felt – at sea.
Some success in thwarting pirate attacks can already be claimed, as can be seen from the falling percentage of attacks that prove successful. Nevertheless, as the statistics so bleakly indicate, piracy and armed robbery against ships remain real and ever-present dangers to those who use the seas for peaceful purposes. So long as pirates continue harassing shipping, hijacking ships and seafarers, we are neither proud of, nor content with, the results achieved so far.
More needs to be done, including the capture, prosecution and punishment of all those involved in piracy; the tracing of ransom money; and the confiscation of proceeds of crime derived from hijacked ships, if the ultimate goal of consigning piracy to the realms of history is to be achieved. We hope that our choice of the theme for 2011 will provide an appropriate rallying point around which all those who can make a difference can focus their efforts.
In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with those seafarers, who, at present, are in the hands of pirates. May they all be released unharmed and returned to their families soon.