Europe and Asia to work together to fight piracy

Godollo, Hungary – Asian and European countries, including Greece, have agreed to cooperate more closely to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has been a particular problem for Greek-owned ships.

In a statement issued at the 10th Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers (ASEM) in Godollo, near Budapest in Hungary, the 48 members of ASEM described the frequent attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden as “a major security threat” to international maritime safety.

Piracy is estimated to cost shipping companies up to $12 billion a year, as insurance costs skyrocket.

While agreeing that a key to tackling the problem is to support, under the auspices of the United Nations, measures to establish law and order in Somalia and to encourage sustained economic development in the region, the ASEM partners, who comprise 60 percent of the world’s trade, agreed that they should work together to tackle the actual practice of piracy.

“Emphasis should be laid on the development of a long-term approach and on support for regional cooperation frameworks, including in the area of capacity-building through concrete activities such as information-sharing, training of officials and holding joint naval exercises as and when appropriate,” the ministers’ statement said.

The European Naval Force, Navfor, is currently patrolling the area but activity from gangs remains high. A Greek-owned freighter with 23 seamen on board was seized just last month. As of May, pirates in Somalia were thought to be holding more than 25 vessels. Over 400 sailors are currently being held hostage, the highest number since 2007.

Piracy has become a multi-million industry for the gangs, who demand large ransoms for the release of the vessels they seize.

In the most recent incident, Somali pirates released a Greek-owned, Cyprus-flagged ship for a reported ransom of $6 million. The MV Eagle, a 52,163-deadweight-ton merchant vessel and its crew of 24 Filipinos that was seized in January about 500 miles south-west of Oman, while it was en route to India from Jordan.

The theme of this year’s ASEM meeting, which concluded on Tuesday, was “non-traditional security challenges,” which energy security, climate change, growth and poverty reduction.

Nick Malkoutzis

3 responses to “Europe and Asia to work together to fight piracy

  1. The last time I was in the area, it was already apparent that the resolve to use force to combat piracy differed among the participants. The same could easily be said about the tactics employed in facing the pirates themselves. In general there seems to be a lack of willingness to deal with the problem drastically.
    At that time (two years ago) Japanese, Indian, and Russian vessels were already operating in the waters off Somalia, beyond the ships of Operation Atalanta. Offensive operations were discouraged, if not outright forbidden, and no one proposed “sting” operations. An attack by an Indin vessel against a suspected “mother ship” resulted in the sinking of a Korean fishing vessel and the loss of the crew.
    Attacks on the havens have been ruled out as they could not really find who was a pirate and who was not.
    The western nations have shown an aversion to dealing dynamically with a real problem and have prevented other, more heavy-handed actors from acting differently.
    A decoy, or sting operation, would entail trapping attacking pirates by using a decoy merchant with concealed weaponry/troops, along the lines of raider-merchant steamers used by combattants in both World Wars.
    It is also a wonder that no one is using armed UAVs for long range patrols over the area, although they’re probably all flying over Afghanistan and western Pakistan at the moment.
    Perhaps, one must re-read the exploits of Pompey who managed to weed out piracy in 67 BC, in just three months time.

    • Thanks for your expert insight Thymis. All I can see is when you see the list of subjects that were discussed at this meeting under the title “non-traditional security threats” it is mind boggling. From food shortages to nuclear energy. Achieving agreements for concrete action on any of this is a real challenge.

  2. Efthimios Tsiliopoulos

    We should note that all state actors have contingency military and civil protection plans to deal with what has been loosely termed as “asymmetric threats”. For example, all Greek military units have just such contingency plans, spread between the four main bureaus.
    On many of these threats, especially natural disasters, they can find a modus vivendi. However, when you take into account that many of these actors, as well as many non-statal actors (from terrorist groups to NGOs, to supra national actors) actvely engage in developing asymmetric strategies and activities against their opponents/competitors, it seems at least hypocritical that they even sit down and talk with each other in such civil tones. I do believe that all should talk with all. Again, though, I have seen sworn enemies meet behind closed doors and those talks are much more substantive and rarely even become known. However, i am not a functionalist and do not believe that institution-building ultimatily works. A marriage is not necessarily a happy marriage, and closer proximity may prove more divisive and more competitive than a healthy respect for the enemy and an aknowledgement of differences.

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