Abu Dhabi: With piracy off the Somali coast at an all-time low, the international community should now focus on tackling the root cause of the problem by strengthening local governments, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister, said ahead of the fourth Counter-Piracy Conference in Dubai on Wednesday.

While appreciating the roles played by different countries and organisations in containing the dangers of piracy, he warned against complacency.

Pirate attacks around the coast of Somalia have seen a steep decline over the last two years, compared with the levels of 2011, when Somali pirates attacked 236 ships. There were only 15 such incidents throughout 2013 and this year so far only two unsuccessful attacks were registered.

“This remarkable success is testimony to the effectiveness of international counter-piracy cooperation in the Horn of Africa. Despite recent successes, there is no room for complacency. Although incidents of piracy have plummeted, other forms of crime on the high seas are on the rise. These include illegal fishing, human trafficking, the smuggling of arms and drugs, and armed robbery. The threats to regional security posed by these crimes amount to those of terrorist acts. And they are becoming difficult to control and contain,” said Shaikh Abdullah.

UAE co-chairs the Working Group on Maritime Counter-Piracy and Mitigation Operations with Japan and the Seychelles, which is part of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), which unites 80 countries, international organisations, and the maritime industry in the fight against piracy.

“The UAE has for long been a leading proponent of this regional and international cooperation and has sought to raise awareness about piracy in the Arab world. The UAE also cooperates closely with its partners in Somalia and the Seychelles to build local capacity, tackle root causes of maritime piracy, and prosecute offenders. Our support of the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) in the Seychelles is just one example of cooperation in this area. We have also done much to boost our own naval capacities and improve port security,” he added.

Talking about the root causes of piracy and ways to tackle them,” he said.

“In Somalia, root causes of piracy remain in place — a lack of economic opportunities, weak state institutions unable to exert their monopoly on the use of force, and the absence of the rule of law and effective governance. These same factors are also driving piracy in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. Even more worryingly, they fuel the growth of land-based terrorist organisations and criminal networks that interlink with and fuel maritime crime. This suggests that the international community needs to do two things to find a sustainable solution to the scourge of piracy. First, it needs to sustain the recent momentum at sea. This requires extending the mandate of international operations in the Horn of Africa, even as attacks decrease. Without these operations, piracy will quickly return to prey on shipping along our vital sea lanes,” Shaikh Abdullah said.

Counter-Piracy experts from around the world will gather in Dubai from Wednesday for a two-day Counter-Piracy conference, which is part of the UAE Counter-Piracy Week.

The fourth annual public-private counter piracy conference is being held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and global marine terminal operator DP World.

Being held at JW Marriot Marquis Hotel, the conference will see 600 senior government officials, maritime officials and industry leaders discuss the threat of piracy and ways to tackle the issue that costs the world economy billions of dirhams every year.

“Countering piracy has for long been a top priority for the UAE. As a maritime nation, the UAE has a strong interest in the security and openness of international sea lanes. This is why, every year, the UAE hosts a major counter piracy conference that brings together all of the relevant counter piracy stakeholders from around the world. This year will see the fourth instalment of this landmark event,” said Shaikh Abdullah.

With inputs from WAM