Somali Piracy And Regional Maritime Security: Views From French Navy Indian Ocean Command


January 15, 2014

As part of the efforts exerted by INEGMA’s “Counter-Piracy and Somalia Capacity-Building Program” (CPSCB) to spread awareness for the purpose of building expertise and providing recommendations with regards to maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, the INEGMA team held discussions with Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant, Commander of the French Joint Force in the Indian Ocean , who deliberated on the latest developments, efforts, recommendations, as well as the upcoming agenda of ALINDIEN* and EUNAVFOR with regards to maritime piracy.

The discussions held with Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant were as follows:

1. INEGMA Team: How does Alindien participate today in the fight against piracy?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: France is committed to the fight against piracy at sea through the European Operation Atalanta. Alindien is the operational command of the French assets deployed in Atalanta, and that is my main contribution to the fight against piracy. Atalanta is a great success since last year, we have witnessed only 6 pirate attacks, and none of them were successful. As Alindien, I am also the French government representative. It is my duty to ensure that any suspected pirate seized by a French ship is transferred to the judiciary, as fast as possible, to secure adequate judicial treatment. On a more general note, my staff keeps a permanent watch on the piracy front. We share our security assessments with ship owners and also keep track of civilian maritime traffic, commercial or private, in order to prevent attacks.

2. INEGMA Team: Since the roots of piracy are onshore, are you considering some operations on land?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: You are right, the roots of piracy are onshore. However, France does not consider that a military operation on land would be the appropriate response. The Somali State and institutions are not developed enough to curb piracy on their own. That is why France is again involved in several missions, such as the European mission EUCAP Nestor, whose aim is to foster appropriate State capabilities in Somalia. But EUCAP Nestor is essentially a civilian mission because we need to support Somali institutions.

3. INEGMA Team: Long-term measures to mitigate piracy are focusing on Somalia’s capacity building capabilities. How are you contributing to this issue?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: Although the waters in front of Somalia are in my area of responsibility, the country itself is not. Long-term measures are civilian measures, not military ones: from legal assistance to training of the maritime and security personnel in Somalia. France is committed to help Somalia in all of these domains.

4. INEGMA Team: The World Bank and INTERPOL’s latest report showed the importance of the pirates’ business model and the need to track the illicit financial flow from pirate activities. How are you dealing with this issue?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: Clearly, our first line of action is to prevent pirate groups to access new funds, deterring and repelling attacks, hence avoiding ransom payment. As military, this is our leverage. We use this same leverage on the fight against terrorism in the Arabo-Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden. Within CTF 150 and 152, we try to interrupt illegal trafficking, mostly of drugs and arms, in order to lessen the financial resources of terrorist groups.

5. INEGMA Team: The EU and NATO mandates’ operations in the Indian Ocean are supposed to expire at the end of 2014. In this perspective, what would be the role of Alindien?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: Alindien’s area of responsibility is not limited to piracy: as I said, terrorism, all traffics are very important issues. The maritime security of the region is of paramount importance for international trade. French and European supply routes run though this area and are a major concern. In fact, the stability of the region is one of the main elements of our White Book on Defense and National Security, published in 2013. As my area extends from the Red Sea, to the Gulf and the limits of the Indian Ocean, including countries like Jordan, Iraq, Iran, the GCC countries, India and Pakistan, I seldom get bored.

6. INEGMA Team: What would you say are the three most serious threats to maritime security in the wider region today?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: In my opinion, the three most serious threats to maritime security in the area are piracy, terrorism and illegal trafficking. Again, I would like to emphasize the link between what is happening at sea and what is happening on the ground. As long as we will face chaos in Somalia, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, illegal activities at sea will last because they are linked to activism in these countries.

7. INEGMA Team: In the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Sea, we find asymmetric naval warfare threats combining with conventional threats. What kind of added demands does a combination of threats like the one we find here put on regional navies and partners in terms of future planning for capability and force posture?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: In any environment, asymmetric threats require flexibility of forces and capabilities. This is the case at sea as well. I think our uttermost priority is to foster the development of appropriate and interoperable naval capabilities in the region. Only by coordinating their efforts will the regional actors manage to set up an efficient tool to fight asymmetric threat at sea. But more than naval capabilities, we need to have a global picture of what is happening at sea: gathering information and sharing it with maritime assets and regional partners requires coordination between all the countries involved in this area. This is the most challenging objective.

8. INEGMA Team: You say maritime interests are shifting on a global scale, how strategic are these trends and what is their likely impact on the role for navies and scope of mission over the next decade in the Middle East and Asia? Are offensive capabilities going to be the game changer?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: Yes maritime interests are shifting, but I don’t believe they will shift radically. “Pivot to Asia” is a reality, but I don’t think that the Indian Ocean and the Gulf are going to become strategically peripheral. Globalization of world trade is dependent of maritime transit of goods, which explains our growing dependence to maritime transportation and the absolute need for maritime security. I actually believe in the “pivot to the sea”. This implies that any actor that wants to matter needs to invest in naval capabilities. We are witnessing this trend with the incredible efforts made by China and India to upgrade their navies and bring them to the next level. To answer your question, offensive capabilities are never the game changer, State ambitions and offensive will are. Truth is the ability to control maritime traffic is essential. To speak more precisely about the Gulf, Iran is the only country in the area which has developed and is improving naval capabilities. This should encourage the other Gulf countries to improve their cooperation.

8. INEGMA Team: You say maritime interests are shifting on a global scale, how strategic are these trends and what is their likely impact on the role for navies and scope of mission over the next decade in the Middle East and Asia? Are offensive capabilities going to be the game changer?

Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant: It is true we are currently witnessing some type of long-range naval capacity race in the area. However getting the tools does not mean you know how to use them. To put it in another way: these capabilities will not be operational immediately. I am not naïve, though, I am certain that time will bring experience to States that want to acquire it, specifically China and India, but Pakistan and Indonesia as well, which are investing a lot. This also means that regional actors will need to learn and cooperate with newcomers. As I told you, assets are not the problem, political will is. What is certain is that France is in the Indian Ocean to stay. Personally, I can only rejoice about the fact that maritime and naval issues are taken seriously. Most Asian countries have understood the maritime challenges ahead and are moving forward to face it. This is normal. In this context, I believe France has a specific role to play, side by side with its regional partners, in order to secure peace and stability. Look at what we are doing within the CMF: 29 nations are cooperating together to improve maritime security. For the years to come, cooperation and dialogue will be the actual challenges.

*ALINDIEN is a French naval acronym designing the admiral of French Forces in charge of the maritime zone of the Indian Ocean.


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