By: Hajira Amla
Piracy around the Horn of Africa, which affected container ships, fishing vessels and cruise ships traversing the strategically important location, has been significantly brought under control since its peak in 2009, with only two failed attempts in 2014 and no activity recorded thus far in 2015.
However, acknowledging that the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles, situated some 1,500 kilometres off the coast of East Africa, still remains at high risk from the threat of piracy, the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR)’s counter-piracy operations chief in the Indian Ocean region has said that the solution to ending piracy lies not at sea but rather on the land.
Speaking to members of the local press after a visit to the Seychelles President, James Michel, the operational commander of EUNAVFOR’s Operation Atalanta, Major-General Martin Smith said that EUNAVFOR will spend the following two years of its extended mandate with its Indian Ocean partners to enable them to build their own regional capacity for maritime security.
Major-General Smith said that although pirate activities off the Horn of Africa were currently at a low ebb, the threat still existed.
“We need to remember that the ultimate solution to piracy is on land in Somalia, and that may take some time to achieve,” he said. “So the EU has extended the operation for a further two years, and I think that’s a very clear sign that the EU sees itself remaining in the counter-piracy domain in the Indian Ocean.”
“We will do the right thing, we will support regional states in setting up a regional maritime security strategy, which will eventually allow the region to continue to provide security for itself,” he added.
“We understand that this may take some time, but we are your partners and we will remain with you.”
In a press statement issued on Thursday, President Michel expressed his satisfaction that the EUNAVFOR mandate had been extended to the end of 2016.
“Maritime security is our common good and an element of our collective human security for the stability of our region. It is important for island and coastal states of the Indian Ocean region to take ownership of our shared maritime safety and security, to depend on ourselves, and in collaboration with our international partners, bring about peace and security to the region,” said President Michel.
Seychelles has been conducting piracy trials since 2010 after the National Assembly amended the penal code to allow the prosecution of pirates.
Those convicted are repatriated to Somalia to finish their sentences in prisons built by the UNODC.
In partnership with the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well as other international organisations, the Seychelles has been central to international efforts to tackle the problem of piracy, establishing a United-Nations backed piracy court as well as a Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution & Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) now known as the Regional Fusion and Law Enforcement Centre for Safety and Security at Sea (REFLECS3) which has brought together experts from around the world to share intelligence and information on piracy.
The EU and the Seychelles signed a pirate transfer agreement signed in December 2009, which allows suspected pirates to be transferred to Seychelles for prosecution.
Pirate attacks off the vast coastline of Somalia have declined from 236 in 2011 to two reportedly unsuccessful attacks in 2014, thanks to international counter-piracy cooperation efforts.
“I’m personally very grateful to the Seychelles for taking a lead in the fight against piracy, and I would highlight what we would call the ‘legal finish’ – the legal instruments that you have set up have led the region in this particular regard,” said the Major General.
“They have allowed us to properly prosecute the pirates that we have detained, and that has been an extremely important part of the fight against piracy. So I would like to thank the government and the people of the Seychelles for the lead that you’ve taken in this area.”