The European Union, this year’s chair of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, will host the Group’s 16th Plenary in New York on May 14. The Contact Group has helped lead the world’s counter-piracy effort in the Gulf of Aden since 2009. In 2013, the United States chaired the group; previous chairs have included Egypt, Greece, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, UAE, India, Republic of Korea, Turkey, Singapore, and Spain.
Attendees will be reminded of the continuing danger of counter-piracy work during the May proceedings. On April 7, two employees of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime were shot and killed at the airport in Galkayo, Somalia. Clement Gorrissen of France and Simon Davis of the UK were investigating pirate financier money flows and were reportedly shot by a uniformed guard at the airport.
Counter Piracy Priorities
The Deputy Chief of Mission for the European Union in the United States, Francois Rivasseau, and State Department Coordinator for Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Donna Hopkins recently met with international news media at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. There, they outlined the EU’s three main priorities for the group’s chairmanship. First is to refine and optimize the structures and working procedures of the group to make it more relevant, cost-effective and efficient. In practical terms, this means reducing the number of working groups from five to four and handling more meetings by videoconference.
Second is to utilize the “zero-zero” approach; zero ships and zero seafarers in the hands of Somali pirates. While pirates currently hold no large ships, there are still at least 49 seafarers held by pirates for ransom, some for three years or more
The third priority is capturing the lessons learned in the fight against piracy by the international community and making them widely available to apply to future security challenges.
Rivasseau told the assembled reporters that giving the pirates and would-be pirates an alternative way to earn a living might be the most promising avenue toward a long-term solution. The Contact Group wants “to turn them towards legal activities,” said Rivasseau. A successful pirate raid might earn a young man thousands and thousands of dollars – assuming that he survives the raid and returns home, which many would-be pirates do not. The economic development of Somalia would open a path to steadier, safer income and a more stable life. In the meantime, the efforts of the Contact Group have made those successful raids a rarity and big pirate paydays are harder to come by. In fact, there has not been a successful raid against a commercial ship off the Coast of Somalia in nearly two years.
Rivasseau and Hopkins reminded reporters that even though the situation is improving, piracy has not been eradicated. As Hopkins put it, “The fundamental conditions along the Somali coast have not changed, and if we drop our guard, piracy will return.”
Hopkins ascribed the success of the Contact Group to its inclusiveness. The strategy, she said, “is the product of not just governments, but international organizations and NGOs and industry is a multi-pronged approach. There’s the action against pirates, but there’s also security capacity-building, there is institutional capacity, there’s economic activity, there’s development activity. It has to be a whole-of-government – what is the European phrase? A comprehensive approach. That’s important. It’s important because, otherwise, we’re solving just part of the problem.”
The Bureau of Political Military Affairs is home to the Counter Piracy/Maritime Security office within the Department of State.
About the Author: Fred Stern is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Piracy and Maritime Security .