Sailors held by Somali pirates must be freed, Dubai conference hears

Ramola Talwar Badam

DUBAI // Government ministers and business leaders have pledged to re-double efforts to secure the release of 64 sailors being held by Somali pirates.

A strong message was released on the final day of the Third Counter-Piracy conference in Dubai by more than 750 government and industry heads urging help from the Somali government and asking the international community to focus on releasing the men in captivity.

“About the sailors and fishermen who are still being held hostage, we would like to send a message that they must be released unconditionally,” said Faris Al Mazrouei, the UAE’s assistant foreign minister for security and military affairs.

“The men are being held on land and we believe they should be freed without paying any ransom money. Building the capabilities of the Somali forces on the ground, we can achieve this purpose.”

There are 64 sailors being held in Somalia, of whom 53 have been prisoners for more than two years, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

At least 50 of these sailors are from commercial ships, the rest are fishermen on small dhows captured by the pirates. The ships of these seamen have sunk, the most recent being the Malaysian-flag MV Albedo in July, and shipping companies have said they have no money to pay for their release.

The final communication released at the end of the two-day Dubai conference said it was vital to “draw the international community’s attention to the ongoing grave humanitarian situation of seafarers still held in captivity in Somalia and the plight of their families and call on the international community, with the help of the federal government of Somalia and regional authorities, to do everything in their power to release these captives and return them to their families”.

Fauzia Yusuf Adan, Somalia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, extended condolences to those who had lost their lives and property and those detained during the past years.

Reiterating the need for long-term international support to rebuild security, coastguard and legal institutions, Ms Adan said Somali forces would be the best tool to eliminate piracy.

“The Somali navy was established in 1960 and it disappeared during the civil war and one of our primary goals is a Somali maritime force to establish the jurisdiction of our territorial waters and provide effective law enforcement,” she said.

Delegates from Somaliland, a self-declared autonomous region of Somalia, said working with local communities and building security and law enforcement forces had helped tackle piracy.

“With limited resources, we have created an effective coastguard that is keeping our shores free of pirates bases,” said Mohammed Bihi Yonis, foreign minister of Somaliland, a country which declared independence in 1991 and has been campaigning for recognition from the international community.

“Close to 100 suspected pirates have been apprehended off the coast of Somaliland and 10 of these suspected pirates are currently awaiting trial in Berbera, Somaliland.”

Despite the decline in piracy with the last successful seizure of a commercial ship in May last year, delegates warned the spotlight should remain on security at sea and investments in development work on land to tackle the causes of piracy.

The conference also focused on building partnerships with non-government organisations and the private sector for investments in schools, roads, ports and infrastructure.

“There are still challenges ahead as we have been successful in suppressing piracy, we have not eradicated piracy,” said Donna Hopkins, the US chair of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which includes 61 countries and 21 organisations that collaborate on development and security issues.

“If the international community were to withdraw we would see a re-emergence of piracy and we don’t want to see that happen. So we have to keep our focus on changing the fundamental conditions in Somalia that will allow the Somali government themselves to effectively eliminate piracy.”


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