Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to convey the warm greetings of U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and his thanks to the Government of Australia for its excellent work hosting this ministerial meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The United States is pleased to participate in this important gathering for the first time as a Dialogue Partner. We look forward to a productive relationship with the IORA and working together to advance our mutual interests.
The discussions over the past two days have reaffirmed the importance and potential of the IORA in bolstering security and prosperity across the Indian Ocean region. We all know regional cooperation can be politically and logistically challenging, but the results can be truly transformative. This is why the United States supports the Association‚Äôs role as a regional platform for making tangible progress in the six priority areas agreed to by Ministers in 2011.
Today, the Indian Ocean region faces increasingly complex challenges to stability and growth. Piracy, climate change, and fishery depletion are just a few examples of challenges to the region that require practical multilateral solutions. A dynamic, pro-active IORA can do much to address these and other challenges through effective coordination, cooperation, and sharing of best practices.
The United States is engaged in the Indian Ocean region in a number of initiatives that support the IORA‚Äôs priorities. For example, this year, the United States is chairing the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which brings together over 80 countries, organizations, and industry groups to tackle piracy, ensure pirates are brought to justice, and support regional states in developing maritime security capabilities. Thanks to the collective efforts of the international community, Somali pirate attacks declined 75 percent from 2011 to 2012. The United States welcomes IORA‚Äôs efforts to enhance counter-piracy cooperation among its member states, including through greater information sharing and stronger national legal capacity.
As you know well, the Indian Ocean region is unfortunately prone to a variety of natural disasters. The United States supports disaster risk reduction efforts to build resilience, strengthen national disaster management capacity, and bolster regional entities. Last year, we provided over $33 million to support disaster preparedness in the region. U.S. efforts include working with regional partners to develop and strengthen tsunami warning systems. We strongly encourage nations to sign mutual aid agreements to prepare for these unpredictable and devastating disasters that so quickly wipe out hard won economic development gains.
The United States is sharing its expertise in marine management in order to promote conservation of the Indian Ocean‚Äôs unique marine habitats. We are helping Maldives establish marine protected areas, and will soon be working with India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to share lessons learned with the aim of further protecting these landscapes vital to the region‚Äôs fisheries, broader economy, and way of life.
On all these and the other priority areas of this Association, the United States believes sustained engagement and leadership can make a real difference in making substantial progress. Once again, the United States thanks the IORA for its acceptance into the Association as a Dialogue Partner. We look forward to fruitful cooperation in this forum.