World renowned as a global commerce hub, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among the growing community of nations, international organizations, and industry groups coming together to confront pirate gangs based out of Somalia targeting seafarers in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and surrounding waters.
I recently returned from Dubai, where I attended the conference: "Global Threat, Regional Responses: Forging a Common Approach to Maritime Piracy." Hosted by the UAE's Foreign Ministry and co-organized by global ports operator DP World, the conference was attended by government officials from 60 countries and more than 170 senior maritime industry leaders. The event underscored the importance of further strengthening counter-piracy partnerships between governments and industry and succeeded in raising nearly $5 million for a UN-administered fund to support prosecution and incarceration of these maritime criminals. The fund is a unique public-private partnership and a key component of what Secretary Clinton has called a "21st Century solution to this 17th Century crime."
In 2009, the United States helped to establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, comprised today of more than 70 participating nations, international organizations, and industry representatives. Among its achievements, the Contact Group has coordinated multi-national naval patrols in the region, and partnered with industry to develop effective self-protection measures to discourage and delay pirates from boarding vessels.
Yet, as the United States and its Contact Group partners have taken action, the pirates have adapted, increasing the number of attacks and shifting their tactics. Recent months have tragically illustrated the impact of these crimes, from the murder of four Americans aboard the S/V Quest and the killing of a Filipino crew member aboard the M/V Beluga Nomination, to the abduction of a Danish family from their yacht and the continued captivity of hundreds more merchant mariners by gangs operating in areas of Somalia's coast outside of effective government control.
To this end, even as counter piracy efforts treat the symptoms at sea, the United States is also committed to supporting the Transitional Federal Government and engaging with other actors on land who also want to discourage this criminal enterprise. Piracy is interfering with political reconciliation and inhibiting a possible economic recovery from decades of civil war in Somalia.
The conference also saw progress on public-private cooperation on another key front: strengthening the law enforcement capabilities of countries in the region, which is essential to bringing pirates to justice.
In 2010, the United Nations established the Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States Countering Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. To date, the Trust Fund has delivered $4.2 million in support to criminal justice projects in Somalia, Kenya, and the Seychelles, such as a recently completed prison complex in Somalia's Somaliland region, training and equipping coast guard personnel to safeguard the sea lanes, and a series of educational programs to train a new generation of legal personnel across the region. The conference raised nearly $5 million in new support for the Trust Fund, as well as for other industry-led on-shore development projects.
As UAE's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan put it, "At a time when political agendas are filled with a myriad of equally important issues, the international community must nevertheless remain vigilant against the growing threat from maritime piracy. It is crucial that we now step up the pace."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Coming out of the conference, the United States looks forward to reinvigorated focus from governments and industry on tackling piracy in the months and years ahead.