BRUSSELS¬†‚Äî The European Union is stepping up its efforts to help Somalia stabilize itself while continuing with its counterpiracy operations off the Somali coast.
‚ÄúWe need to continue to disrupt and deter the pirates until the conditions ashore mean that Somalia can look after its territorial waters,‚Äù said a senior EU official in the off-record part of a news conference here July 16.
‚ÄúThe number of pirate attacks has diminished dramatically,‚Äù said Nick Westcott from the EU‚Äôs External Action Service. The fight against piracy will continue, he said, but EU‚Äôs long-term resolution is to put in place a government that can ensure law, order and security in Somalia.
‚ÄúThis is a growing focus of activities,‚Äù he said.
The EU aims to reach an agreement with the international community on a new deal for Somalia at a conference in September.
‚ÄúThe new deal compact is designed for fragile states. It‚Äôs a document enabling the [Somali] government to set out priorities to re-establish government in the country and the international community to commit itself to support those priorities,‚Äù he said. The compact is currently being negotiated in Somalia.
According to figures from the EU‚Äôs counterpiracy operation force (EU NavFor) website, pirate attacks were down to three thus far in 2013 compared with 35 in 2012 and a high of 176 in 2011.
In the last six months, a senior EU source said 21 suspect pirates had been captured, six pirate action groups followed and disrupted and one confirmed attack.
‚ÄúThis is the lowest period of activity since the start of Atalanta [the EU‚Äôs mission],‚Äù said the source. Currently, 54 hostages and one ship are held by pirates. ‚ÄúWe can‚Äôt be complacent about this tactical success,‚Äù he cautioned.
Asked if there was a need for fewer ships and less equipment in these circumstances, the source said that the number of ships was ‚Äúprobably at the right level.‚Äù There are currently between four and six ships in the area.
‚ÄúISR assets are very effective. You can‚Äôt support operations without good ISR. We do, it works and we don‚Äôt want to reduce them at the moment,‚Äù he said. As for ships, ‚Äúthe frigate is still the standard we need and it works well,‚Äù he said.
Another EU source said there were about 25 ships in the area at any one time from a range of countries and all acted as a deterrent to pirates. The different countries coordinate the ship deployments through an informal anti-piracy working group. In this context, there is also an IT tool where countries in the region can express a request (e.g. for items such as radar or night vision goggles) and countries from the EU and other parts of the world can make offers.
Overall, Westcott said the EU had spent nearly ‚Ç¨1 billion (US $1.3 billion) in Somalia in various forms, including security and humanitarian aid, over the last four or five years.