About the Author: David McKeeby is a Public Affairs Specialist in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
U.S. diplomatic leadership in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and stepped up international naval patrols are making a positive difference in the waters off the Horn of Africa, resulting in an increasing number of successful interdictions and prosecutions of pirates prowling the region.
On May 29, representatives from the Contact Group’s 28 participating countries and six international organizations (the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union, the International Maritime Organization, NATO, and the UN Secretariat) will meet at the United Nations in New York City to build on international progress against piracy, which continues to threaten global shipping traffic and humanitarian aid deliveries transiting the region.
“We may be dealing with a 17th century crime,” Secretary Clinton said, following the rescue of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama,” but we need to bring 21st century solutions to bear.”
Just how multinational is this 21st century effort to suppress modern-day piracy? Consider this: when a Greek-owned, Egyptian-flagged vessel recently came under attack south of Yemen, South Korean destroyer Munmu the Great from Combined Task Force 151 came to the rescue, joined by flagship USS Gettysburg and the force’s commander, Turkish Rear Admiral Caner Bener, detaining 17 Somali suspects. Created by the U.S. Navy to confront piracy, the force has also included naval personnel from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece, Pakistan, and Singapore.
In all, around 20 countries have sent naval vessels to join in the international patrols against piracy. The United States is not only working closely with NATO and European Union allies; we also hope to build on new maritime security partnerships with China, India, and Russia, which have also joined in the counter-piracy effort.
Since January 2009, over 300 individuals suspected of engaging in piracy have been captured in the waters off the Horn of Africa. Approximately 200 of these suspects are currently the subject of criminal investigations or proceedings in Kenya, the Puntland region, Yemen, France, the Seychelles, the Netherlands, and the United States.
In New York, Contact Group members will continue to discuss the many challenges remaining ahead. How can the Contact Group stem the overall rise in pirate attacks, which are currently on track to be double the number of incidents in 2008? How can partners in the shipping industry best minimize their vulnerability to piracy? How can states affected by piracy fulfill their responsibility to bring suspected pirates to justice?
And not far from anyone’s mind will be the fact that 14 ships and over 200 crew members from the Philippines, China, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, and several other nations currently remain in pirate custody.