The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia – Updates and Evolving Multilateral Activities

3rd UAE Counter Piracy Conference | Briefing Paper 1
The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia –
Updates and Evolving Multilateral Activities
Donna Hopkins
Chair, Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia

As a direct result of the work of participants in the Contact Group, shipping companies are better
preparing their masters and crews to defend against hostile boarding; the last successful pirate
seizure of a large commercial ship occurred over a year ago on May 10, 2012 (last updated in
June 2013). Naval forces from over 20 countries are cooperating daily in unprecedented
operations at sea to preempt and disrupt piracy attacks. Over eleven hundred pirates are in prison
in 21 countries, either awaiting trial or serving significant prison sentences for piracy, armed
robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and murder. Governments and industry are more readily sharing
vital information, resulting in the arrests and conviction of land-based conspirators in maritime
piracy. And Somalis in coastal communities are increasingly pushing pirates out of towns and
villages where they have damaged Somali youth, dishonored Somali elders, and disrupted the
return of order and stability to a country that has been troubled for too long by criminal actors
exploiting conditions resulting from twenty years of civil war.

The Contact Group has no mandate, no authority, no secretariat and no budget, but offers a new
model for collaboration to shared security challenges. Its 61 countries and 21 organizations meet
regularly to discuss and debate issues of common concern, and then work to implement
appropriate policies, standards, regulations, or other actions through other institutional bodies,
whether national governments or recognized international organizations such as the United
Nations and its technical agencies.

As one example of its seriousness of purpose, in 2010 the Contact Group created the multi-donor
Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States Combating Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. This Trust
Fund, which is managed by the United Nations, has disbursed over $16 million dollars to

implement a dozen projects in Somalia, Seychelles, Kenya, and other countries, making possible
such diverse activities as the transport of suspected pirate pirates to trial, repatriation of former
pirate hostages abandoned in Somalia by their captors, building prisons in Somalia, courtrooms
in Kenya and Seychelles, and training judges and prison mentors in several countries in the
region. All entities affected by Somali piracy – including commercial maritime companies – are
invited and encouraged to contribute generously to this Trust Fund, which was established
specifically to help end the threat from piracy to commercial shipping in the Horn of Africa

The creativity of the Contact Group is exemplified in the Shared Awareness and De-confliction
(SHADE) mechanism, an informal participatory process in which officers from over 20 navies
and multinational naval operations working in and near the Gulf of Aden meet four times a year
in Bahrain to share information and agree on operating principles to maximize their effectiveness
and reach. SHADE permits a minimum number of ships to work together to protect a very large
area of ocean to the greatest possible extent, while never raising controversial questions about
command and control. Of particular note, industry representatives participate in and help inform
SHADE deliberations.

Through its five Working Groups, chaired by the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Republic of
Korea, Egypt, and Italy, the Contact Group has instigated very substantive development
programs, web-based tools, a comprehensive legal toolbox, the important post-trial transfer
program, best management practices for vessel self-defense, industry standards for private
maritime security companies, strategic messaging programs, and innovative information sharing
fora that, taken together, have substantially advanced the ability of the international community
to combat Somali piracy.

While the drop in pirate attacks and the diminishing numbers of ships and seafarers held by
Somali pirates is clear evidence of its relative success, Contact Group participants are keenly
aware of two important points.

First, the fundamental conditions along the Somali coast that allowed the emergence of piracy
have not materially changed. There is still much work to be done to rebuild the ability of the
Somali government to protect its sovereign territory from criminal and illegitimate activities. If
we prematurely lessen our vigilance against piracy, the problem will return, and that we must not
allow. We welcome the excellent start of the new Government of Somalia toward the
development, through the Kampala Process, of a national Somali Maritime Resources and
Security Strategy, but once adopted, it will need significant support from donors and other
organizations to implement.

Second, the political climate in Somalia has changed markedly for the better since 2012, creating
for the first time in many years a legitimate government in Mogadishu that can provide a basis
for building upon the work that the Contact Group has carried on, especially as it pertains to
capability building in the maritime security sector. The 2013 conference in Dubai is an excellent
opportunity to reinforce the desire and intent of the Contact Group to work closely with the
formal institutional actors engaged in Somalia, including the new UN Mission to Somalia, and
with the Government of Somalia itself, to advance shared goals to bring peace and security to
Somalia and the maritime trade routes along its shores.

Under the chairmanship of the United States, the Contact Group met for the 14th Plenary Session
on May 1, 2013, in New York, where it was honored by a videotaped address by the President of
Somalia His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the President of the Federal Republic of
Somalia. President Mohamud commended the work of the Contact Group and requested the
continued attention and support of the international community to assist Somalia in rebuilding its
ability to protect its maritime and coastal territory and to use its abundant resources for the good
of the Somali peoples, including through supporting the establishment of the Somali Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ).

Participants at this Plenary agreed that the Contact Group should continue its work through at
least 2014, consistent with the mandates of the international naval counter piracy missions and
depending upon the continued decline of maritime piracy in this region; that the ultimate goal of
the Contact Group is the terminal degradation of piracy emanating from Somalia, and the

enablement of the Somali government to control its land and maritime territory and deal
effectively with criminal activity committed by its citizens; and that the Contact Group will adapt
its working methods as appropriate to changing circumstances, including political developments
on the ground in Somalia.

Furthermore, the Contact Group agreed to focus on four strategic priorities in 2013:
 To communicate more effectively the multi-faceted work ongoing in the Contact Group;
 To strengthen and focus law enforcement efforts to disrupt pirate networks ashore, including
by establishing active and effective information exchanges among investigators, prosecutors,
and private industry;
 To proactively address the complex policy and practical issues associated with the use of
armed security teams embarked for self-protection on commercial ships; and
 To better integrate the Contact Group’s work with that of formal institutional actors through
deliberate and purposeful collaboration.

There are many relevant programs and projects in progress in standing organizations such as the
International Maritime Organization, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, especially its Counter
Piracy Program based in Nairobi, and the UN Development Program, that can carry forward
initiatives begun by the Contact Group. Regional organizations such as the African Union will
have significant roles to play in the development of cooperative maritime security agreements as
coastal patrol and naval force capabilities develop in eastern Africa. And, not least, the
Government of Somalia aspires to assume unto itself the administration of security and justice as
its organic institutions are rebuilt and fortified to the point that they are able to operate
independently. Contact Group stakeholders all look forward to the time when we can turn our
attention to other challenges to international security in the maritime domain, of which piracy is
but one.

This article was commissioned by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis
(INEGMA) on behalf of the third United Arab Emirates Counter Piracy Conference,
‘Countering Maritime Piracy: Continued Efforts for Regional Capacity Building’,
organized by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with global ports operator DP
World and Abu Dhabi Ports Company, held in Dubai on September 11-12, 2013. The opinions
expressed in this paper are the views of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions or positions
of the conference organizers. Content may have been edited for formatting purposes.


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