Indian Ocean and Red Sea countries have pledged to cooperate in seizing, investigating and prosecuting pirates off the coast of war-ravaged Somalia in a stepped-up campaign to curb a scourge that has wrought havoc with international shipping, including United Nations delivery of emergency food aid.
“The adoption of this instrument shows that countries in the region are willing to act concertedly and together, contributing to the ongoing efforts of the broader international community to fight the scourge of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the area,” UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos said of the Code of Conduct adopted yesterday at a high-level meeting in Djibouti convened by his agency.
Nine countries – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Yemen – have already signed the Code, which calls for shared operations, such as nominating law enforcement or other authorized officials to embark in the patrol ships or aircraft of another signatory.
The meeting was attended by ministers and senior officials from Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen, as well as observers from other IMO members, UN specialized agencies and international and regional inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Code is open for signature by the 21 countries in the region.
“Like the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (RECAAP), which was concluded in November 2004 by 16 countries in Asia, I have every faith that the Code of Conduct will prove to be the starting point for successful cooperation and coordination in the region, which will bear fruit in the suppression of piracy and armed robbery against ships,” Mr. Mitropoulos said.
Representatives of States that have sent naval forces to protect shipping off Somalia, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and United Kingdom, also attended the four-day meeting, as did the UN World Food Programme (WFP), whose chartered food aid ships have been hijacked on several occasions.
Mr. Mitropoulos stressed that the contributing alliances of Governments, organizations and individual countries such as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia had done their duty in seeking to protect shipping and the time had now come for regional States to add their own contribution.
But he stressed that that while the contribution of regional States was hugely important, the long-term solution to the problem still lay onshore, within Somalia itself, which has not had a functioning central Government since 1991 and is riven by warring factions.
In December, the UN Security Council unanimously called on countries and regional bodies with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight piracy, including possible action against pirate bases on land.
Apart from chartered WFP ships, recent seizures by pirates have included a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship with arms on board.