U.N. maritime body launches anti-piracy drive

Monday, 7 February 2011 00:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  •  Shipowners, union worry about growing Somali attacks
  • U.N.’s Ban says piracy poses threat to trade routes

LONDON (Reuters) - The U.N.’s maritime agency called for a new drive against piracy on Thursday as officials and shipowners voiced fears that the growing scourge of Somali pirates was outpacing international efforts to deal with them.

The International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) action plan, which calls for closer international coordination of military and civilian efforts against piracy, comes at a time of growing concern over the expanding reach, ambition and firepower of Somali-based pirates.

“Piracy seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told delegates at the launch of the plan at the London headquarters of the IMO.

Ransom payments of hundreds of millions of dollars had created a “pirate economy” in some areas of Somalia and insurance premiums were on the rise, Ban said.

“The threat to international trade routes is clear,” he said, calling for action to support alternative jobs to piracy for Somalis, including rehabilitating coastal fisheries.

The IMO’s plan called for efforts to build up the capacity of states in pirate-infested regions to bring pirates to justice, but is short on specifics.

Speakers at the launch reflected frustration in the shipping community at the growing threat the pirates pose to key shipping lanes and vital oil supply arteries in the Indian Ocean despite the deployment of international naval ships there.

“The situation has worsened during the past years with fiercer and increasing attacks on ships. The increased use of so-called ‘mother’ ships has enabled the pirates to operate at a vastly greater range,” said Robert Lorenz-Meyer, president of BIMCO, the world’s largest private shipowners’ association.

“Today there are more than 700 seafarers held hostage for ransom on 32 ships ... This does not speak well for the effectiveness of the measures taken by the international community,” he said.

Separately, the owners of the “Beluga Nomination”, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates on 22 January, said this week Somali pirates had shot dead a crew member.

Lorenz-Meyer appealed to the U.N. Security Council to increase the naval presence in the Indian Ocean and to make it easier to prosecute detained pirates.

“Without robust and effective counter-measures, piracy will ... make the use of this important sea lane an unacceptable risk to ship owners,” he said.

David Cockroft, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a union grouping representing seafarers, said many crew members were at breaking point because of the stress of passing through the area frequented by pirates.

“If the risks cannot be eliminated, then seafarers will demand not to sail into the area at all and responsible ship owners will support them,” he said.

There would never be enough navy ships to counter the pirates in the vast ocean, he said, calling for “robust political and military intervention” onshore in Somalia, led by the key states in the region.