April 12, 2012
As piracy continues to threaten Indian Ocean shipping, causing steep economic losses, governments and policymakers say regional cooperation is key to tackling the problem.
"If ever there was a need for consensual and cooperative effort, it is in relation to piracy," Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony said recently at the opening of the annual twoday conference of India's National Maritime Foundation.
The think tank meeting featured speakers from the United States, France, Australia, and Gulf countries as well as India. China opted out of the February 27-28th gathering.
Since it joined antipiracy efforts in 2008, the Indian Navy has escorted some 2,000 ships, 85% of them foreign flagged, Antony said, expressing satisfaction that India has been contributing "to the collective security effort".
"But the challenge of piracy is yet to be effectively quarantined, and there is consensus that while the pirates can be neutralised at sea, the real solution lies in addressing the root causes, which are complex and are actually located on land," he warned.
Antony elaborated on this point in a subsequent telephone interview with Khabar South Asia. "There is a need to uproot the basic causes of piracy, and that is famine and hunger in the nations where the pirates live," the minister said.
According to the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, the problem is largely concentrated in the crossroads of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is in this hotspot that India, China and Japan have recently increased their cooperation.
The three nations, which operate independently in the Gulf of Aden, have agreed to share information and coordinate the movement of their warships in the key corridor with the goal of ensuring there are fewer gaps in the protection of cargo vessels.
"Earlier, the convoys [of India, Japan and China] would be bunched almost together in a short time frame, leaving the Gulf of Aden without protection for a large part of the day," Assistant Chief of Naval Staff Rear Adm. Monty Khanna told a briefing in New Delhi in February, according to current affairs magazine The Diplomat.
The Gulf of Aden is a shipping lane vital to the economies of all three countries. The Ministry of Shipping has estimated Indian imports through the Gulf of Aden at $50 billion, and exports at $60 billion, annually, the magazine said.
"The new arrangement is much better," Khanna told Khabar South Asia. "The convoys of the three participating countries will now take turns in monitoring the high risk zone and that would definitely allow safe passage of the merchant ships."
Captain Pradip Kundu of a merchant ship MV Karine Bulker told Khabar that Somali pirates have "changed the character of piracy".
"Earlier, pirates used to raid ships in Malacca and Indonesian waters. They seized cash and other valuables. Hijacking was not their intention. Now they have changed the character of piracy. They are holding crew as hostage and even torturing them."
India has already joined forces with Europe to tackle piracy. At a high level EU-India summit in New Delhi in February, it formalised its cooperation with Operation Atalanta, the EU's first naval operation.
Operation Atalanta has deployed between five and 10 warships off the Somali coast since 2008 to escort humanitarian aid shipments and thwart pirate raids on commercial vessels using vital shipping lanes.
The EU approved a proposal on March 23rd to allow its warships to fire at pirate equipment on Somali beaches, and extended the anti-piracy mission until December 2014.
The expanded scope of the EU mission in the Horn of Africa would allow the EU military apparatus to fire at trucks, supplies, boats and fuel stowed on the coast.
NATO also agreed on March 19th to extend Operation Ocean Shield through 2014, saying that international efforts to control piracy are helping to reduce the number of hijackings.
The NATO mission, which has four warships in the waters off the Horn of Africa, has disrupted robberies and escorted UN vessels carrying aid to Africa since 2008.
Pirates operating from Somalia carried out 237 attacks in 2011, more than half the global total, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
Somali attacks cost the world nearly $7 billion in 2011, including more than $2 billion for military operations, armed guards and equipment to protect ships, the US-based Oceans Beyond Piracy monitoring group estimated in February.
According to 2012 IMB figures, last updated on March19th, Somali pirates currently hold 13 vessels and 197 hostages.
But despite the high number of piracy incidents in 2011, hijackings plunged that year to 28, from 49 the year before.
"The overall figures for Somali piracy could have been much higher if it were not for the continued efforts of international naval forces," the IMB said in a statement in 2011.
Piracy has harmed the fishing and tourism industries of many countries and had ripple effects beyond the obvious. Delhibased Indian Council of World Affairs director Vijay Sakhuja told Khabar piracy has interfered with the ability of Indian scientists to conduct monsoon research in the Indian Ocean.
"This may pose problems as the country's economy hinges on the movement of the seasonal winds," he said.
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