Written by Guy Martin
Piracy will always remain a threat and can never be conquered, according to an expert from the Institute for Security Studies, who believes that piracy can only be managed, not eradicated.
Johan Potgieter, Senior Researcher at the ISS in South Africa, said that the maritime domain was under great pressure, being misused, exploited and destroyed. Maritime threats include terrorism, piracy, pollution, oil theft, overfishing, smuggling, crime etc.
Speaking at the Land Forces Africa conference in Pretoria last week, he pointed out that 92% of global trade, 70% of crude oil and 90% of African trade is seaborne. Inland waterways should not be neglected as they are also important means of transit. However, piracy costs the global economy $18 billion per year, according to the World Bank.
In southern Africa there are major offshore oil and gas finds, with Mozambique possessing an estimated 130-280 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, for instance. However, exploiting such resources is difficult when there are security challenges like piracy, Potgieter said. Pirates and militants have attacked Kenyan oil explorers and attacks off oil-rich Nigeria are commonplace.
Ensuring one‚Äôs maritime domain is safe is a difficult task, especially as Africa‚Äôs exclusive economic zone is twice that of its landmass. In South Africa, Potgieter described the country‚Äôs maritime domain as its tenth province.
In southern Africa, there is not enough capacity to combat security threats, Potgieter said, as Namibia has inshore patrol vessels but no air assets, Angola has almost nothing to patrol its maritime domain and South Africa has too few resources.
‚ÄúPiracy will remain a threat until effective countermeasures are implemented,‚Äù Potgieter said. ‚ÄúI personally believe we will never conquer piracy,‚Äù he said, pointing out that in the Horn of Africa, pirates have moved to the periphery of the areas patrolled by international warships and that there is a ‚Äústrong possibility‚Äù that pirates will move into southern Africa as counter-piracy forces become more effective.
‚ÄúPirates are opportunistic thieves and will move where they see opportunity,‚Äù Potgieter cautioned. It is for that reason that South Africa established Operation Copper to patrol the Mozambique Channel with ships and aircraft in order to guard against pirates. This began in March 2011 following the presence of Somali pirates in the Mozambique Channel.
In order to effectively combat piracy, Potgieter said that countries need to share information and intelligence and have in place mechanisms to prosecute pirates. He pointed out that 80% of pirates who are arrested end up walking free. These are mostly the ones who board ships, and not the real brains behind the operations ‚Äì it is the organisers and kingpins that authorities have difficulty tracking down and prosecuting.
Potgieter called for multinational exercises and training and a common fleet of vessels to counter piracy, as a common fleet would reduce maintenance costs ‚Äì he said that 60% of the cost of fielding a fleet goes towards maintenance.
Defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman said that in the early 1990s, a number of African countries proposed setting up a maritime surveillance aircraft squadron, similar to NATO‚Äôs E-3 airborne early warning squadron, but nothing has come of it. ‚ÄúWe are not cooperating,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúAs a continent we are dirt poor. No-one cares about us except as a sources of raw materials. We need to work together.‚Äù
Heitman said that the role of the military is to deter, combat and alleviate the effects of maritime insecurity. He has estimated that the optimum force design for the South African Navy would comprise six offshore patrol vessels (with 4-5 being operational at any given time) for mainland exclusive economic zone patrolling, and eight frigates and three combat support ships (with 5-6 frigates and two support ships operational) for distant patrols to places like the Mozambique Channel, West African waters and the Marian/Prince Edward Islands. In addition, the South African Air Force would require eight coastal surveillance aircraft, six long-range surveillance aircraft and 18 shipboard helicopters.
Heitman pointed out that solving the piracy problem does not rely solely at sea, as pirates live ashore and smuggle goods ashore, thus collaboration is needed with land forces to combat piracy. Other experts have said that piracy can only be solved on land by destroying pirate bases and improving socio-economic conditions, as the best solution is to stop pirates from heading out to sea in the first place.