Successful Collaboration Against Piracy in the Indian Ocean


The recent successes in arresting pirates who had seized a Filipino merchant vessel in the northern part of the Mozambican channel is good news for efforts to quell the scourge of piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Various circumstances contributed to the success of this operation.  The French Navy – responsible for Search and Rescue Coordination in the South-Western Indian ocean – initially requested the South African SAS Drakensberg to assist in the search for a missing South African yacht, the Dandelion.  The SAS Drakensberg was conducting anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique channel

A French aircraft patrolling in search of the missing yacht meanwhile spotted a suspected pirate mother ship off the Tanzanian coast. The mother ship was steering in a northerly direction and was identified as a Sri Lankan fishing vessel captured by pirates on 9 November 2011.

The missing yacht was meanwhile located off Pemba, northern Mozambique. The crew was safe but had been experiencing technical problems. The mission of the SAS Drakensberg was then changed to a piracy interdiction operation.  Through further collaboration between the forces of the European Union’s anti-piracy Operation Atalanta, the Tanzanian Navy and the South African navy, the pirates were forced to split up and those in the skiff of the Sri Lankan vessel  fled to Songo Songo island within Tanzanian territorial waters, where the Tanzanian forces arrested five pirates.  A Spanish ship of the Atalanta contingent eventually seized the mother ship and the pirates were handed over to the Tanzanian authorities for prosecution. The six Sri-Lankan crewmembers who had been in the hands of the pirates were rescued.

What lessons can we learn from this? Firstly that a search and rescue operation, through sharing of information and effective utilisation of collateral capabilities, can end in a successful anti-piracy operation. This is because sharing of information allowed responsible authorities to act timeously, and collectively, which was vital for their eventual success.

Many mechanisms for the sharing of information already exist. In the Indian Ocean, the International Maritime Organisation is implementing the Djibouti Code, which provides a framework for assistance to regional States to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea.  It aims at improving regional coordination and cooperation and is based on four broad pillars: information sharing to create maritime domain awareness; capacity building; updating legislation and regional training.  Three such Information Sharing Centres are already established and are based in Sana’a in Yemen, Mombasa in  Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Similar initiatives in accordance with relevant UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions and international law have been launched. The European Union and NATO, which, as part of a comprehensive approach, have launched the European Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta (EU NAVFOR – ATALANTA) and the USA launched its Taskforce 151 (TF 251).  Under the broad based UNSC mandate, the EU NAVFOR – ATALANTA will protect vessels of the World Food Program delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia. It will also protect ships of the African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom); deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast; protect vulnerable shipping off the Somali coast on a case by case basis; and in addition, EU NAVFOR – ATALANTA shall also contribute to the monitoring of fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.

The International Maritime Bureau  (IMB) also maintains a 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The IMB is a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce, which gathers information and fights crimes related to the maritime trade and transportation environment, particularly piracy and commercial fraud, and protection of the ocean-going vessels’ crews.

Africa should not try to duplicate these information-sharing initiatives, but rather complement those that already exist though information gathering in those areas not covered by the international initiatives.   On its part, the African Union (AU) has completed a draft African Integrated Maritime Security Strategy (AIMS), which focuses not only on the scourge of piracy and crime in the maritime domain, but also on all those threats to human security like illegal, unauthorised and unreported fishing pollution and maritime safety and governance, amongst others, The many threats to the maritime domain therefore can better be addressed by accepting collective responsibility and through focused collaboration amongst African states.

Some Regional Economic Communities like the Southern Africa Regional Economic Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as regional security mechanisms like EASBRICOM (East Africa) have already developed a similar maritime strategy to address the wide range of maritime related activities threatening human security.  Whereas the many international organisations focus on certain aspects within the maritime domain, Africa’s regional bodies have realised that the sharing of information to develop a collaborative response in addressing the common maritime threats is essential.  To this end ECOWAS and the other role-players on the West coast of Africa lead the way in forming a partnership with the Gulf of Guinea Commission and the Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa for the integrated management of their maritime region. ECOWAS Regional Maritime Security Unit, reporting to the Director Political Affairs, Peace and Security, is responsible for providing an integrated maritime ‘picture’ to all members.  EASBRICOM is creating a maritime component as part of its peacekeeping Regional Standby Force, with similar reporting lines.  The AU has also taken some initiatives for the integrated management of the maritime domain through improved collaboration between AU departments and has announced the establishment of a Maritime Unit within the Department of Peace and Security.

The AU should however learn from past initiatives, and not try to manage all these activities from Addis Ababa, but allow the regional bodies through close collaboration and coordination with other international organisations within the UN legal framework, to address maritime challenges.  The AU  needs to provide broad strategic guidelines for all member states to achieve – as envisaged with AIMS.  The execution capabilities lie within the regions through close collaboration with neighbouring member states and regions, and should be managed by those member states/regions through collaboration.  This, amongst others, implies alignment of related legislation and removal of obstacles for effective management of the total maritime domain.  The AU should however provide the integrated ‘picture’ of all activities or threats within the African maritime domain, through regular situation reports compiled from the vast information sources already monitoring this environment.  This could then serve to re-evaluate existing conduct, formulate new policy guidelines, or learn from other initiatives – a process of continuous improvement.

The crucial part in the protection of the maritime environment is the will, opportunity and capacity to act against the culprits once information is shared.  This means that African member states must have the capabilities to monitor the maritime domain, fulfil tasks for surveillance and be ready to act if so required.  They will need to monitor the domain by satellites, maritime air and naval patrols or reports from shipping.   All these activities must also be complemented by the capacity to act and have in place the necessary legal instruments, aircraft, ships, organisation and infrastructure.

Africa has taken the first step in the long journey to maritime security. These efforts need to be accelerated in order to ensure a sustainable maritime environment for the benefit of all its people.
Johan Potgieter, Senior Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria
[Source: ISS]
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