3 October 2011
Panel discussion on Piracy – introduction
By E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO
Madame Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
As we are all only too painfully aware, the escalation of piracy in recent years has been a matter of great concern to the maritime community prompting IMO to make combating it a central theme of our work this year.
The reality, of course, is that piracy (which a Chatham House report has found to cost the world economy between 7 and 12 billion US dollars annually) is too complex and has become too entrenched for any one entity to deal with it effectively. The United Nations, Governments acting collectively or individually, political and defence alliances, shipping companies, ship operators, ships’ crews, among others, all have a crucial part to play if shipping is to be rid of this scourge and the integrity of strategically important shipping lanes maintained.
What is needed is a collective effort, and that is why IMO chose “Piracy: orchestrating the response” as its theme for this year’s World Maritime Day in order to underpin its own work while coordinating its activities with those of other parties concerned.
To this effect, even before the year started, we devised, in collaboration with industry and seafarer representative organizations, a multi-faceted action plan, designed to address the problem at several levels. It draws heavily on the Organization’s considerable experience of tackling piracy in other parts of the world – most notably, in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and in the South China Sea.
We are seeking solutions in three distinct time horizons. In the immediate term, our aim is to contain piracy, thwart pirate attacks and punish those responsible for such attacks; in the mid-term, our strategy is to undermine organized crime gangs to plan and mastermind pirate operations and make it harder for them to engage in, and conduct, such operations; while, the long-term solution should be for the international community to help the people of Somalia to rebuild their country, including establishing law and order conditions such that crime will no longer be a preferred option for several of them.
Despite the number of pirate attacks continuing to cause concern, there is, however, some cause for optimism. The percentage of successful attacks has dropped, from more than 40 per cent in recent years to less than 20 per cent this year – testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and of the successful implementation by ships of the industry-devised best management practices. The numbers speak for themselves: from 31 ships with a total of 714 seafarers in the hands of pirates in February of this year (when they peaked), the number of those held hostage at present has almost halved to 339 seafarers on 16 ships – although even one seafarer in captivity is one too many! And, of course, these relatively good news should not allow any room for complacency, especially now that the monsoon period that has kept the pirates at bay is about to finish – on the contrary, we should intensify our efforts to stem the unacceptable phenomenon of modern-day piracy.
It is crucial that the political will among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference is translated into their acting in a manner that matches their political ambition and the severity of the issue demands. Resources (in the form of naval vessels and military aircraft) being made available; legislation to ensure that pirates do not escape prosecution being expeditiously adopted and rigorously enacted; and strongly recommending that ships flying their flag comply, while sailing through piracy-infested areas, with the best management practices and, when transiting the Gulf of Aden, keep within the internationally recommended corridor – all these should be high on the agenda of, and acted upon by, Governments and all other entities affected by piracy as it presents itself in the western Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Guinea nowadays. Such efforts should include the tracing of ransom money and the confiscation of proceeds of crime delivered from hijacked ships.
It is unrealistic to expect IMO and the industry alone to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem – particularly since, although it manifests itself at sea, its roots are to be found ashore. Nevertheless, through our action plan and other initiatives, undertaken at various fora and levels, and in collaboration with all the other interested parties, we feel confident we will be able to make a difference where the problem is being most acutely felt – at sea.