Safeguarding the Seaways: Counter-Piracy Contact Group Meets in New York

Posted by Donna Hopkins
September 17, 2009
Pirates Leave Merchant Vessel MV Faina for Somalia's Shore

About the Author: Donna Hopkins leads the Plans and Policy Team in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Plans, Policy, and Analysis.

Japan hosted the fourth plenary meeting of the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) at the United Nations on September 10. I attended the meeting as a member of the U.S. delegation, which also included representatives from seven bureaus in State, as well as officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, among others.

The CGPCS – not to be confused with the International Contact Group for Somalia (ICG-Somalia) – is focused like a laser on combating piracy around the Horn of Africa. The CGPCS works to support and coordinate international efforts to prevent pirate attacks and to hold pirates and their financiers accountable for their crimes, while the ICG-Somalia focuses on land-based efforts to help Somalia rebuild and extend governance in its territory. By design, these efforts are related ─ but separate ─ in order to avoid over-tapping donors to Somalia and to leverage operational and political support by countries who can contribute to the naval effort without distracting from their support for Somalia.

This plenary session was particularly productive. The CGPCS expanded our base participation from 28 to 45 nations and from 5 to 7 international organizations, and added two major maritime industry organizations as observers. Piracy (and counter-piracy!) is obviously a growth industry, politically speaking.

First, the CGPCS agreed on Terms of Reference for the establishment of the International Trust Fund Supporting Initiatives of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, a United Nations-managed fund to help states detain and prosecute suspected pirates, incarcerate convicted pirates, and support other CGPCS initiatives. Bringing piracy suspects to justice can require unusual expenses, such as when witnesses from the ship’s country have to testify in another country where a trial is taking place. Now that Contact Group participants have defined the administrative specifics, governments, non-governmental organizations, and – potentially most important - the private sector, especially the commercial shipping industry, will be able to contribute to this trust fund. This trust fund also complements the also-new International Maritime Organization Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund that will build capacity among countries near the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden to cooperate against piracy and the armed robbery of ships.

Second, on the eve of the plenary, the United States, Cyprus, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom formally signed the New York Declaration, a non-binding political statement of support for adoption of internationally recognized best management practices to protect ships against pirate attacks. South Korea added its signature during the plenary. The six new signatories along with the original signatories (Bahamas, Liberia, Marshall Islands and Panama) together account for more than fifty percent of the world’s shipping by gross tonnage. Since we believe that the real key to security from pirate attacks is shipping self-awareness and self-protection, the USG is pushing hard for the adoption of best management practices by 100% of the shipping transiting high-risk areas off the Horn of Africa.

Chairs for the four CGPCS working groups (WG) reported on progress since the last plenary meeting on May 29.

• The United Kingdom chair of WG1, Military and Operational Coordination, Information Sharing, and Capacity Building, described ongoing efforts to codify coordination procedures among naval forces operating in the region and the capability needs assessment mission that the UK recently dispatched to the region. (That report will be released in the next few weeks.)

Denmark outlined progress by WG2, Judicial Issues, on the development of practical steps ─ a “legal toolkit” for states and relevant organizations considering legal issues related to the capture, investigation, detention, and prosecution of suspected pirates. Denmark also updated participants on the Trust Fund effort, to which Germany and other countries, as well as the UN and its technical agencies, contributed substantially.

• The U.S. chair of WG3, Commercial Industry Coordination, detailed ongoing work on behalf of improving commercial shipping security and the safety and well-being of mariners.

Egypt outlined its efforts as chair of WG4, Public Information, to expand strategic communication about piracy issues in the region and around the world.

During the plenary, the United States called for an examination by subject matter experts of the various illicit financial systems and flows that help to sustain piracy off the coast of Somalia. Several countries signaled strong interest in working with the United States on this sensitive but important effort.

We also adopted a new logo for the group (inset in the photo above), in recognition of the likelihood that this ad hoc group is likely to be around for a while.

To learn more about the United States’ and international community’s response to piracy off the coast of Somalia, and to examine the communiqué from the Contact Group’s recent plenary, check out our new counter-piracy website.

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