Abu Dhabi:Despite decreases in successful naval piracy attempts in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea over the last two years, international experts have urged greater regional cooperation to eliminate this security threat.
They also told Gulf News on the sideline of a symposium on Tuesday that the UAE is playing a vital role in combating East African piracy by providing essential resources and expertise to ant-piracy authorities.
In the first five months of 2013, there have been three attempts to hijack ships in these waters and each has been effectively thwarted, said Dr John Ballard, dean of the National Defence College of UAE Armed Forces at a symposium. The symposium titled Challenges of Piracy in the Gulf of Eden and Arabian Sea was organised in the Capital by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ESSR)
“This still represents a decline from the peak of piracy in 2011, when 176 attempts were made in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. More than $146m (Dh536m) was also obtained in ransom from 25 hijacked ships,” Dr Ballard said.
According to details revealed at the symposium, East African piracy initially became a serious concern in 2008 due to economic instability and declining fish yields in Somalia.
“This prompted Somali fisherman to attack c ships that run off the coast. In total, they attacked 111 ships in 2008, of which 42 were successful. A ransom of up to $3m (Dh11 m) was also obtained per vessel,” Dr Ballard said.
These attempts increased in frequency and success, peaking in 2011, he added.
However, more effective patrolling by Combined Task Force 151 (CT 151), a naval task force of 29 countries launched to combat piracy in shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia, led to “a sharp downturn in 2012”. Only five ships were successfully pirated from a total of 35 attacks, and two are still being held at present.
“The efforts of CT 151, including aerial monitoring and naval patrolling, meaning that the risks of piracy are now outweighing the rewards. In fact, hundreds of pirates have been arrested, prosecuted or are currently awaiting trial,” he said.
Now, there is however a new hotbed of global piracy, as pirates have shifted their activities towards the Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca. There have been 130 incidents of piracy and robbery in this area each year between 2009 and 2012.
“[This is a risk because] nearly 20 per cent of global sea trade occurs in the Indian Ocean and 15.2 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Malacca each day. The global economy cannot afford to allow piracy to expand in this crucial region,” Dr Ballard warned.
He therefore called for the establishment of a ‘maritime Interpol’ intended for the greater Indian Ocean that enables the exchange of information and intelligence.
Dr Martin Murphy, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council at the United States, also suggested that ships strengthen their self protection measures as these are more effective than naval responses.
“The cost of securing waters is always disproportionately higher than the cost of piracy. We must also remember that piracy is an issue at land that is manifested at sea,” Dr Murphy added.
He called for greater economic development and legal controls in Somalia.