Security and defence
Fight against piracy: Tactical gains pave way to future stability
By Irina Smirnova-Godoy | Thursday 21 June 2012
The successful application of the EU’s comprehensive approach to combating piracy has resulted in fewer vessels captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2012. At a press conference, on 19 June, organised by the European Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) Operation Atalanta encouraging progress was reported in improving safe navigation around the Horn of Africa.
Piracy in the Western Indian Ocean has been escalating since the mid-2000s, constituting a serious threat to security, international shipping and development efforts in the region. The EU NAVFOR Atalanta operation was launched in December 2008 under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) with the following mandate: the protection of vessels delivering food aid, deterrence and repression of acts of piracy off the Somali coast and the monitoring of fishing activities in the area.
The member states provided a budget of €8.6 million for 2012 for Atalanta. The operation is deployed in an area about the size of the EU and its military capabilities are supported by four to seven combat vessels, 1-2 auxiliary ships and 2-3 military patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The current mandate was renewed on 23 March 2012 and expires in December 2014. In addition, the mandate extended EU NAVFOR’s area of operations to include Somalia’s coastal territory, as well as its territorial and internal waters.
To date, 117 suspected pirates have been arrested and transferred for prosecution and in 2011 alone the activities of 27 pirate action groups were disrupted.
According to Alexander Rondos, EU special representative for the Horn of Africa, the comprehensive approach to dealing with piracy consists in, primarily, eliminating the sources of instability in Somalia. The possible installation of a temporary government by August with subsequent elections may contribute greatly to addressing the underlying problem of governance in the region. Another component of the ‘land-based’ portion of the EU approach is the €412 million in development aid to Somalia for 2008-2013, which contains an extra s€53 million funding for governance, €30 million for education and €80 million for economic development.
A new mission to enhance the maritime capacities of five countries (Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Somalia) will be launched under the CSDP this summer. This civilian mission, EUCAP NESTOR, will address two main objectives: strengthening of the seagoing capacity of the beneficiary countries and the rule of law in Somalia, especially in Puntland and Somaliland, where a land-based coastal police force will be set up and trained.
While development and stable governance are the EU’s ultimate goals, the immediate costs of piracy cannot be underestimated. The military Atalanta activities are essentially a ‘constabulary’ operation, stated Operation Commander Rear Admiral Duncan L. Potts. This means the enforcement of law to maintain constant pressure on pirates to tip the risk-reward balance of this criminal activity. The implementation of better practices for protection of merchandise shipping, use of private security teams on board and a proactive military approach of focusing on pirate logistic dumps have proved extremely successful. In the first half of 2011, 28 ships were victims of pirates, while only three were captured by criminals in the second half. Currently, only seven vessels are being held with estimated 213 hostages.
Several challenges remain for the EU’s counter-piracy efforts, including the lack of local legal capacity to investigate and prosecute the detained pirates, the identification of financing channels for piracy and the mentality of tolerance towards piracy. Further progress is contingent on concerted effort and coordination of multiple international bodies and the growing ownership of combating piracy by regional and national authorities.