No room for complacency, say UAE piracy experts

DUBAI // UAE ship operators must remain vigilant to stop gangs renewing their attacks on merchant ships, experts advise.

“Piracy remains a threat because there continues to be reports of pirate craft operating in the Arabian Sea and nearby waters,” said Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

“Thanks to the efforts of the navies, on-board private armed security and other measures, they have not been successful in hijacking vessels. But there is no room for complacency: vessels must continue to be vigilant.”

After the recent release of two tankers, the UAE-owned MV Royal Grace and the MV Smyrni, IMB figures show there are 65 crew being held by Somali pirates. Of the hostages, 48 men are being held on ships and 17 onshore.

The seized ships are Malaysian-flagged MV Albedo, held since November 2011, the Omani-flagged FV Naham, held since March last year, two dhows and a fishing vessel. Piracy became lucrative in Somalia in the 1990s. Somalis say piracy stemmed from conflicts between local fishermen and foreign trawlers that illegally fished and dumped toxic waste off its coast.

The formation of a government after the September elections last year promises an end to civil war, insurgencies and inter-clan conflict more than 20 years after the ouster of the dictator Siad Barre in 1991.

The UAE has supported efforts to bring stability and peace to Somalia. At international piracy conferences, UAE representatives have backed programmes that strengthen communities and provide employment to stabilise the area.

The country’s support has boosted counter-piracy efforts, said Saeed Rageh, the minister for ports and counter-piracy of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia. “The people of Puntland are indebted to the UAE and we are thankful for the support,” Mr Rageh said. “The support from the UAE through training and logistics has greatly built the capacity of our maritime security force.”

The UAE’s support also helped the Puntland Maritime Police Force to rescue 22 hostages from a UAE ship, the MV Iceberg 1, in December, he said.

Mr Rageh said Puntland had identified eight points of security concern on its coastline. Patrol and speedboats, maritime surveillance equipment and communications systems were needed to continue its push against piracy.

Without this, he said, “we fear that the unrest on the sea will spring back to life and that the pirates have hibernated to search for more sophisticated ways and tactics”.

He added: “We need to prepare well, we need to join hands and end this inhuman act.”


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