On  09  November  2016,  the  United  Nations  (UN)  Security  Council  unanimously adopted Resolution 2316 (2016), renewing authorisation for international naval forces to combat piracy off the Somali coast. The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR)  comes days  after  the  announcement  by  the  European  Union  Naval  Force (EUNAVFOR), on 04 November 2016, of a confirmed attack by six armed men on a chemical tanker, CPO  Korea, 330 nautical miles  off the east coast of Somali  on  22 October  2016.  The  attack,  the  first  in  more  than  two  and  half  years,  was  at  a considerable distance from the Somali coast. The attack underscores the possibility of a resurgence of piracy. In another development, on 22 October 2016, it was announced that 26 surviving crew of the Omani-flagged vessel FV Naham 3, have been released after over four and half years in captivity.

Since its peak in 2010-11, when piracy had spread rapidly beyond the shores of Somalia, the crime has been effectively suppressed.  This has been widely attributed to deployment of naval vessels and aircraft, compliance with Best Management Practices (BMP)  adopted  by  the  shipping  industry  in  the  piracy  High  Risk  Area  (HRA)  and employment of Armed Security Teams (AST). As the root causes of piracy are ashore (fragile economy, lack of alternative livelihood and weak governance), efforts by the international community at addressing these causes, and capacity building have also contributed to the reduction in piracy. The prosecution (and incarceration) of pirates (the  ‘foot  soldiers’),  some  in  faraway  lands,  and  the  apprehension  of  piracy  (and financial)  kingpins  have  also,  in  their  own  ways,  contributed  towards  reducing  the attractiveness of piracy among coastal communities as a viable ‘business model’.

The  October  2016  report  of  the  Secretary-General  of  the  UN  on  the  piracy situation off Somalia had noted that ‘progress remains fragile and reversible’ and that ‘credible  reports  indicate  that  Somali  pirates  possess  the  intent  and  capability  to resume attacks against large commercial ships, should the opportunity present itself’. Further, the report had also highlighted that the ‘drivers which triggered piracy remain unchanged since 2005’.

The UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, inter alia renewed the call upon member States and regional organisations to take part in the fight against piracy by deploying naval vessels, arms and military aircraft. The UNSCR also   renewed   authorisations,   set   forth   earlier   in   2015,   to   States   and   regional organisations cooperating with Somali authorities.

Amongst the deployed naval task forces, which include EUNAVFOR (Operation Atalanta), the Combined Maritime Forces and the NATO (Operation Ocean Shield), the  termination  of  Operation  Ocean  Shield  in  December  2016  has  already  been announced earlier, and the existing mandate of Operation Atalanta, unless renewed, expires  in  December  2016.UN  member  States  which  have  independently  deployed naval ships and aircraft in the region in support of the international anti-piracy efforts include: China, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

The UNSCR noted with appreciation the efforts of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the shipping industry in the development of BMP, and also urged States, in collaboration with the shipping and insurance industries, and the IMO, to continue working towards developing best practices. The BMP, promulgated by the shipping industry, which also demarcated the piracy High Risk Area (HRA), recommends measures for self–protection of merchant vessels including reporting procedures to facilitate coordinated naval response. Self-protection essentially involves high speeds and evasive measures by merchant vessels and ‘hardening’ of ships using both active and passive defensive measures.

Steaming at speeds greater than economical speed, higher insurance premiums in the piracy HRA, additional expenditure for hardening (and security teams), all come with an economic cost to the shipping industry. This additional cost is however passed on to the end-consumers. A larger-than-necessary HRA, therefore, is not in the interest of global trade, and particularly developing countries. Reports suggest that with the decline in piracy (and revision of piracy HRA), BMP compliance is also on the decline, ostensibly to save costs.

Notwithstanding its continuing relevance, the BMP has firstly, in some ways, undermined the role of piracy reporting centres of coastal States within the HRA; and secondly, perpetuated, without transparency, additional costs to the shipping industry (and end consumers). Therefore, based on the experience gained, the primacy of piracy reporting centres of coastal States needs to be reinstated, and a calibrated response based on cooperative consensus, as suggested by the UNSCR, needs to be evolved for establishing/ revising HRA. Considering the economic and security ramifications, the piracy  HRAwhich  was  revised  in  2015  after  much  controversy,  on  the  request  of affected  coastal States, needs  to be reviewed  at regular intervals  (and  progressively reduced). Perhaps, the IMO, a UN body, needs to more actively engage itself in the process of such delimitation.

The  UNSCR  also  urges  States  to  regulate  activities  of  Privately  Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) with applicable international law.   Likewise, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast off Somalia (CGPCS), at its 19th plenary meeting in June 2016, noted the challenges posed by floating armouries and decided to refer the  issue  to  the  IMO  for  further  discussion.  Earlier  in  April  2016,  in  a  noteworthy development, the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI), an industry body   of   the   private   maritime   industry,   went   into   liquidation due   to   a   fall   in membership. The industry, therefore, is currently without an umbrella body for self- regulation, and fragmented. This is not a good portent for the future of the industry (and  maritime  security).  The  weaponisation  of  the  maritime  domain  by  private players,  although  driven  by  necessity, unless  regulated,  remains  a  potential  risk  as well.

Post the revision of the piracy HRA in 2015, in effect, of the three pillars of the international anti-piracy efforts, two pillars, the BMP and Armed Security appear to be  weakening  in  view  of  economic  considerations,  and  understandably  so.  In  the foreseeable future, in the absence of any credible ‘local’ security arrangement in the Horn  of Africa/ Gulf of Aden  and  the geo-economic/ geo-strategic  relevance of the region, the onus of ensuring freedom of the seas in that region will continue to rest upon  the  international  naval  forces.  Consequently,  despite  the  scheduled  exit  of NATO, these forces are likely to remain deployed, with possibly marginal reduction in overall force levels.

Reports of hijacking of Iranian dhows, illegal fishing in Somali waters, seizures of arms, ammunition and drugs, and charcoal smuggling are indicative of continuing maritime threats in the region.  The reported missile attacks on a UAE-operated ship and  on  US  naval  warships  in  October  2016,  by  Yemini  rebels,  also  highlight  the enhanced threats to maritime security from non-state actors.

From  the  Indian  perspective,  Indian  naval  warships  have  continued  to  be deployed  as  part of the  international anti-piracy  effort  since 2008. Consequent to robust anti-piracy efforts, the last hijack in the east Arabian Sea was reported in March 2012. Considering India’s increasing dependence on shipping, the continuing threats to maritime security in the region, the renewed UN mandate, and the expanding role of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region, it would serve India’s interests for the Indian Navy to remain deployed in the region unless the security environment changes substantively.   Considering   the    wide-ranging   assistance   required   in    Somalia, perhaps there is also a case for expanding India’s anti-piracy engagement. Notably, the Indian  Maritime  Security  Strategy,  published  in  December  2015,  brings  out  the commitment of the Indian maritime forces to continue the counter-piracy efforts in ‘coordination with international efforts and anti-piracy cooperative mechanisms’.

The  UNSCR  has  also  highlighted  the  need  to  adopt  domestic  legislation  to facilitate prosecution of suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia. In September 2o16, more than four years into the trials, the 119 Somali pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, in four different incidents in 2011, pleaded guilty to offences  against them. Hopefully, with  this development,  the trial which have been ongoing for several years will come to a close. The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill under consideration also needs to be enacted sooner than later.

Piracy is perhaps one of the earliest forms of unlawful activity in the maritime domain. While piracy off Somalia has been effectively suppressed, it is yet to be eradicated. Meanwhile, piracy and armed robbery in Gulf of Guinea and South East Asia has also waxed and waned. In conclusion, despite the lull, there is work to be done, both nationally and internationally – the pirates have indeed gone home, but may possibly return.



*Commander Himadri Das is a serving officer of the Indian Navy. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or the Indian Navy, the NMF or the Government of India. He can be reached at himadridas@rediffmail.com

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