New Delhi: Djibouti, a tiny nation of less than three million people in the Horn of Africa, is cooperating with India closely to combat threats to shipping in the Indian Ocean from pirates based out of civil war-wracked Somalia. Djibouti is an important transit port for regional and international shipping as well as a base for refuelling.
‚ÄúIndia has always been a significant entity in the region, as the name Indian Ocean implies. We are helping India directly as well as indirectly in the war against piracy. Indian marines are going to Djibouti and staying there two-three days before going out to sea to search for pirates,‚Äù Ambassador Youssouf Omar Doualeh, told IANS in an interview here.
‚ÄúWhen an Indian ship was hijacked off the Somalian coast, Indian officials called me and the ship was located in two weeks,‚Äù Doualeh said, referring to the hijacking of an Indian ship in June this year.
The envoy was speaking to IANS as Djibouti City, the country‚Äôs capital, readied to host the forthcoming plenary session of the UN Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS). A senior official of the external affairs ministry is attending the conference begining Sunday.
‚ÄúWe are doing everything to combat piracy, helping to locate hijacked ships. We have also sent troops to Somalia to help stabilize the situation there and bring peace,‚Äù Doualeh, who is completing an eight-year stint as his country‚Äôs first ambassador here. ‚ÄúI am very proud to be Djibouti‚Äôs first ambassador to India, with which we have had significant exchanges,‚Äù Doualeh said.
Controlling access to the Red Sea, Djibouti is of major strategic importance and hosts several foreign military bases, including a US base that is central to the war on terror. Indian naval ships call at Djibouti port regularly. About 21,000 ships cross the Gulf of Aden waterway annually, also known as ‚ÄúPirate Alley‚Äù for the large amount of pirate activity in the area, linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean.
The waterway forms an important trade route for India, specially for oil and fertiliser. The country receives $50 billion in imports and sends $60 billion in exports through this area annually, while the Indian Navy keeps a warship escort in the area.
‚ÄúPiracy here is now a problem for the whole world. So the Americans, the French, Spanish, Koreans, the Japanese are all here in Djibouti and we are facilitating them,‚Äù said Doualeh.
During the years from 2005 to 2012, 179 ships were hijacked off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
A One Earth Future Foundation report says maritime piracy cost the international economy nearly $7 billion in 2011.
Between 2005 and 2012, up to $413 million in ransom payments were paid to Somali pirates, according to a report this week by the International Criminal Police Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank.
Talking specifically about bilateral relations with India, the ambassador said, ‚ÄúIndia is a big country, it can provide almost everything we need.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe are facilitating India‚Äôs trade with Africa. Three more ports are coming up that will help trade with East Africa through Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi,‚Äù Doualeh said.
He said the reason why ambassador-level relations with India began as recently as eight years ago with his posting here was because Djibouti was among the last of the French colonies in Africa to gain independence in 1977.
Djibouti is a member of the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), while its decision to open an embassy in India was guided by the new ‚Äúlooking east‚Äù vision of its foreign policy, the ambassador said.
Annual trade between India and Djibouti currently hovers around the half billion US dollars mark. India has extended $10 million line of credit to set up in Djibouti a cement plant that is nearing completion. IANS