Gulf countries talk piracy post-Nato

Caline Malek

DUBAI // New talks on antipiracy initiatives are under way as Nato prepares to leave the Arabian Gulf next year.

Although piracy incidents have sharply declined, the organisation has said that it must engage in more regional capacity building to tackle the issue.

“We are effectively treating the symptoms of the disease,” said Michel Soula, the head of operations for Nato. “The next step involves attacking the root causes.”

So far, Nato has trained coastguard personnel and offered ship protection advice through Operation Ocean Shield. But it plans to do more.

“This age of austerity means we need to be bolder and more creative than ever in terms of leveraging partnerships and external funding,” Mr Soula said. “For instance, pursuing a partnership with the UN office on drugs and crime is just one possibility.”

He was speaking in Dubai last week at a conference on Nato and its approach to Arabian Gulf cooperation.

Mr Soula said the UAE was playing a key counter-piracy role off the Horn of Africa.

“The UAE has kept an impressive bilateral programme of aid,” he said. “Recognising that Somali stability is the centre of gravity in regional capacity-building efforts, Emirati assistance to Mogadishu has grown significantly. More than US$50 million (Dh183m) has been pledged to Somalia by the UAE so far this year alone, much of it targeted at education, renewable energy projects and other developmental assistance.

“This is the sort of action that will make a real difference in eradicating the root causes of piracy on shore.”

In 2009, there were 45 pirate hijackings off the coast of Somalia. In 2011, there were 24. Last year, there were eight and since last May, there have been none.

“Currently, no merchant ships are held hostage and there are a total of 50 hostages on land,” Mr Soula said.

Nato will have three options to choose from post-2014: to leave, stay as it is today, or stay in a different, more flexible way, which includes occasional regional patrols.

“So far, within Nato, there would appear to be a general consensus that some continued presence is needed,” he said. “The shape of this involvement is currently under discussion.

“A focused Indian Ocean presence, which would provide recurrent deterrence during piracy high season, may be the solution in that it would keep some visibility while diminishing the costs of the operation.”

But more help will be needed on different fronts.

“The UN, the EU, civil society and private industry all have scope and multiple tools for developing their regional capacity-building roles,” he said.

“The situation in Somalia is such that Somali actors and institutions are not always willing or able to pull their own weight.

“The security situation remains all too volatile, with destabilising consequences for the region. Last month’s atrocity in Kenya was a painful reminder of this reality. But the counter-piracy domain is one where international collaboration has proven absolutely essential to success.”

Countries in the region have expressed their will for Nato operations to continue.

“A lot is being done in piracy and the continuation of this project is vital for economies in the region,” said Vural Altay, the Turkish ambassador to the UAE. “Twenty per cent of Turkey’s foreign trade is carried through the region so the continuation of this project is vital for my country, too.”

Mr Soula said he had high hopes for a future without piracy.

“The success story of counter-piracy was built on foundations of cooperation,” he said.

“The real challenge remains addressing the root causes of piracy on shore, and that regional capacity building is key in this regard.

“What has yet to be seen is what Nato’s counter-piracy role will be on January 1, 2015, but through the Arab task force and through capacity building, we could produce more results and more cooperation would be welcome.”


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