ECSA calls for action in West Africa

Need for continued efforts to address the problem of piracy

The ECSA Piracy Task Force met in June and agreed on the need for continued efforts to address the problem of piracy along the coasts of East and West Africa.

The latest position of ECSA on piracy off Somalia and in West Africa has now been finalised and can be found below

East Africa

Shipowners are grateful to see the decrease of piracy attacks around the Horn of Africa. The naval presence of the EU Member States, through their participation to EU NAVFOR ATALANTA and their cooperation with other international forces, has strongly contributed to the decline of successful piracy attacks in this region. In conjunction with self-protection measures adopted by the shipowners, criminal prosecution of piracy suspects and reconstruction efforts in Somalia, the naval presence has resulted in a strong improvement of the security situation in the Gulf of Aden.

However, although developments on land are promising, among others thanks to the efforts from the EU to address the root problems of piracy, the situation is fragile and remains easily reversible. The problem has been curtailed, not solved. It is therefore absolutely imperative that Member States maintain the military operation and other efforts in the region.

The EU shipowners therefore call for the extension of the EU NAVFOR ATALANTA mandate beyond 2014, at least until 2016.

West Africa

Unfortunately, piracy and armed robbery are increasing in the Gulf of Guinea. Attacks are also taking place now far outside territorial waters and extreme violence is used.

The problem is acute, complex and reaches beyond the seafarers and shipowners. The poor security situation imposes additional, high costs on African imports and exports and thus jeopardises jobs and economic activity in African States.

EU shipowners cannot resolve the situation themselves and call upon the EU and its Member States for immediate and concrete action. Long term solutions must be found on shore, however, the security situation is such that action must be taken today.


ECSA calls for:

International military presence outside territorial waters

Under the Law of the Sea, the international community is obliged to ensure security on the High Seas. In addition, the recently published report of Oceans Beyond Piracy on the human cost of maritime piracy reports that as of 2012 West Africa directly affects more seafarers than Somalia based piracy. The international community must protect the security of seafarers and vessels outside territorial waters in West and East Africa.

Proper protection from the local navy in territorial waters

Inside territorial waters, ECSA is calling for protection from the national navies, coast guards or police and asks the EU to encourage the States to take up their responsibility. The EU should contribute by funding capacity building to provide high quality local naval capabilities. EU financial aid must be made available to local States to ensure regional cooperation, capacity building and governance issues.

Today, shipowners are confronted with a number of problems regarding the use of local military staff on board vessels, such as poor quality and reliability, sometimes unpredictable pricing when hiring local staff, and legal constraints regarding the Flag and Port State. Shipowners, depending on the State, may need to get approval from the Flag State to embark the foreign military staff, and the disembarkation of a national navy in a port in a neighbouring State is putting relations between African States under pressure. The use of escort vessels proves also to be problematic as they are very expensive and one is never sure whether they will arrive on time.

Increased efforts by the local States to ensure security in their territorial waters must therefore be requested by the EU in bilateral or regional meetings. The EU should also encourage EU Member States that have specific expertise on the region to help in ensuring that local States take up their responsibilities.

Allowing the use of Private Armed Guards on board vessels

Given the high level of violence and determination of pirates in West Africa, the risk of an escalation of violence is real. Shipowners are aware of this. However, the reality forces them to use a variety of self-protection measures, including the option to employ private armed guards on board their vessels. The EU and Member States are requested to explore the possibility of bilateral discussions with the concerned African States to ensure that shipowners can use quality private armed guards on board their vessels when they decide it is necessary, and to clarify the legal framework applicable, in line with the UNCLOS. Today, the poor quality of local guards and the difficulty to use own armed guards in territorial waters restrict shipowners to contribute to the safety of their seafarers. The industry has developed Interim Guidelines for the region and increased efforts are taken to ensure these are properly applied. The use of armed guards should not lead to more violence and allowing their use should not mean that governments can hide away from their legal obligation to ensure security to civilian shipping.

A well functioning monitoring and reporting system

Reporting is hardly taking place as there is no reliable and trustworthy system to report into. Shipowners fear that the information they provide might be used for wrong purposes. The lack of overview and information leads to an underestimation of the situation on the ground. Therefore, a reporting and monitoring system must be developed which guarantees shipowners that the provided information is kept confidential and protected, goes to the right persons and flows into appropriate action.

The EU has shown leadership in counter-piracy missions and is in the strong position to be able to act promptly on different fronts such as: political, diplomatic, trade, development aid and with military involvement. ECSA calls on the EU and the Member States to come up with a concrete action plan that takes above demands and concerns into account. Immediate action is required.


Original Article