Governments seek IMO help in fight against piracy
Regional co-operation identified as key to progress in south-east Asia
A meeting initiated by IMO to address growing concern about the level and severity of attacks in south-east Asia took place in Singapore on 15 and 16 March 2001. It brought together representatives from Asian and Pacific countries that either experience extensive piracy or armed robbery activities in waters off their coasts or which it was felt could play a substantial role in addressing the problem due to their strategic location in relation to the most affected areas.
While the effectiveness of co-ordinated patrols and joint exercises to test existing anti-piracy systems and strengthen co-operation among neighbouring countries in their efforts to deal with the problem was recognised and encouraged, an overall lack of regional co-operation was identified as one of several elements currently hindering a reduction in armed attacks in the area. Delegates therefore invited IMO Secretary-General William O’Neil to undertake consultations with Governments in the region with a view to convening a meeting, at an appropriate time, to consider establishing a formal regional agreement on co-operation against piracy and armed robbery against ships.
The meeting went on to express concern at the disappointing level at which flag States were reporting attacks or attempted attacks on their ships to IMO and invited the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee to urge all States once again to make such reports. The meeting also urged the shipping industry to ensure that all attacks or attempted attacks are reported promptly to the nearest Rescue Co-ordination Centre, the designated focal point of the coastal State concerned and the Flag State concerned. Furthermore, it was felt that a more precise categorization of attacks would present a more accurate picture of the situation and the MSC was invited to consider doing so.
The meeting also encouraged participating Governments lacking the necessary expertise and associated resources to seek technical assistance from IMO in order to improve their capabilities to prevent and suppress piracy and armed robbery against ships in their waters.
Although concern was expressed at the continuing increase in the number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in certain parts of the world – and, in particular, at the escalating degree of violence which, in several cases, has resulted in loss of life, the efforts of certain Governments in the region, which have resulted in a considerable decrease in (and in some cases even the eradication of) acts of piracy and armed robbery reported in waters off their coasts and ports were noted with appreciation. Nevertheless concern was raised that in other countries little if any progress had been made in establishing an effective system that would ensure fruitful results.
In general, the main problems needing to be addressed were identified as the continuing economic situation prevailing in certain parts of the region, the geographical configuration of certain countries, the resource constraints on law enforcement agencies, the lack of communication and co-operation among the various national agencies involved, the response time after an incident has been reported to the coastal State concerned by affected ships, general problems of incident reporting, e.g. alerting the nearest coastal States as well as other ships in the area of a ship under attack or threat of attack, the timely and proper investigation into reported incidents and the poor rate of prosecution of pirates and armed robbers when apprehended.
It was recommended that Governments identify, on the basis of experience and statistical information, vulnerable sea areas off their coasts and in their ports and direct their resources to cope with the increased risks to safe navigation and environmental protection in such areas with particular emphasis being placed on areas used by international shipping; and provide specific advice for ships on protective measures and local reporting procedures.
In conclusion, the meeting encouraged Governments in the region which have not yet ratified the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Navigation and the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf to do so at the earliest opportunity.
The Singapore meeting marked the beginning of Phase Two of IMO’s current anti-piracy initiative. It will be followed later this year by similar meetings in the Latin America/Caribbean and West African regions, which have also been identified as piracy hot-spots. The initiative has received funding support from the Governments of Greece, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, as well as the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the IMO has encouraged other potential donors to do the same.