DUBAI // Strengthening regional naval forces and exchanging intelligence are ways to protect territorial waters from piracy and maritime crime, officials and diplomats said on the concluding day of the UAE Counter-Piracy conference on Thursday.
The drop in the number of piracy attacks off Somalia could lead to a smaller international naval presence in the Arabian Sea and Gulf Of Aden and regional countries must step in, officials said.
‚ÄúThird countries may be considering withdrawing or reducing their naval presence because hijackings have dropped and it is against this background that it is very important that regional countries step into that gap and begin to provide the cover necessary to protect shipping in these waters,‚Äù said P Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau.
‚ÄúThe prediction is that [forces] will reduce and this will leave shipping vulnerable. We are in a very fragile state.
‚ÄúAll it will take is one successful attack to make the pirates feel that they can carry out attacks again.
‚ÄúThere is a need for regional countries to provide the naval protection and step into this gap, take on the responsibility and protect shipping.‚Äù
The last hijacking by Somali pirates was on May 10, 2012. There were none last year and this year there have been two attacks, both unsuccessful.
This is compared with 51 attacks off the Somali coast in 2009.
Patrols by naval forces, self-protection measures and armed guards on merchant vessels were among the reasons for the drop in Somali attacks.
Three dedicated counter-piracy forces cover an area of operation that extends 2.5 million square miles ‚Äì almost 50 per cent larger than the European Union mainland.
These include the European Union Naval Force (Eunavfor) mission Operation Atlanta; Operation Ocean Shield, a Nato initiative, and the Combined Maritime Forces.
The UAE led the CTF 152, one of three task forces operated by the CMF in 2011.
Nations such as Japan, China, India and South Korea also have naval forces that conduct escorts along an internationally approved corridor.
Although the Eunavfor mission was scheduled to end this year, both Nato and the Eunavfor have extended their Somali mission until 2016 as an ongoing deterrent to piracy and armed robbery.
Building regional forces was key to combating maritime crime and cooperation would help fight piracy, clamp down on sea routes used for narcotics, arms smuggling and human trafficking, diplomats said.
‚ÄúWe must use the resources we have in an intelligent and cost-effective manner and this includes the deployment of naval assets,‚Äù said Joel Morgan, Seychelles minister for home affairs and transport.
Seychelles is a key island nation that the UAE has supported with a modern coastguard headquarters and patrol boats.
‚ÄúWe must address different elements that concern maritime security and threats we face that ultimately end up on land in our respective countries,‚Äù Mr Morgan said.
‚ÄúTransnational organised crime is one where the maritime sector is used quite a lot for illegal goods, transportation of arms, drugs and even for human trafficking.
‚ÄúI believe that within the region we can have centres that coordinate with one another to provide a regional response. We also need to build up our naval capacities.
‚ÄúThe UAE has been a strong supporter of the Seychelles and we will continue to work closely with the UAE as our key partner.‚Äù