July 11, 2007
Navies may pursue pirates within Somali waters
The UN Security Council may request the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to allow naval ships to pursue pirate vessels into Somali territorial waters.
In some past incidents, coalition warships have watched helplessly when hijacked vessels have reached Somali waters.
A recent increase in the frequency of attacks by pirates has seen a dramatic reduction in the use of cargo vessels to move food assistance to Somalia from ports in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.
Yesterday, the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, and the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, called for concerted and co-ordinated international action to address the threat of piracy and armed robbery against ships in waters off the coast of Somalia.
The IMO Council has authorized Mr. Mitropoulos to request UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to again bring the piracy situation off Somalia before the UN Security Council. If the Security Council requests the Somali Transitional Government to take appropriate action that could include giving consent to ships --as defined in Article 107 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea-- to enter the country's territorial waters when engaging in operations against pirates or suspected pirates and armed robbers endangering the safety of life at sea.
So far this year there have been 15 attacks on vessels in or near Somali waters. Two of these attacks involved WFP-contracted ships, and in one of these two incidents, a security guard was killed.
A new request from the UN Security Council would be in line with its Presidential Statement of March 15, 2006, after the matter had first been brought to its attention following adoption of an IMO resolution.
The 2006 Presidential Statement encouraged UN Member States with naval vessels and military aircraft operating in international waters and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia, to be vigilant for any incident of piracy and to take appropriate action to protect merchant shipping (in particular ships being used to transport humanitarian aid) against any such act, in line with relevant international law.
Subsequently, there was a temporary reduction in acts of piracy and armed robbery off Somalia, but recent months have seen a renewed rise in attacks on ships.
IMO has taken a number of steps in response, including intensifying its existing coordination mechanism with WFP and the navies operating in the western Indian Ocean region, to help ensure that the tracking of and the provision of assistance to merchant shipping is maintained and further strengthened.
IMO has also recently issued a Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) circular warning maritime interests of what continues to be a worrying situation off Somalia and inviting Governments and organizations concerned to implement effectively the guidance to Administrations, industry and crew issued previously by IMO.
Additionally, in the context of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, IMO has requested the inclusion, within this year's related General Assembly resolution, of a renewed call for all concerned to continue their co operation in combating acts of piracy and armed robbery and in ensuring the early release of ships and persons held hostage as a consequence of such acts.
"We would like to see a more coordinated and robust approach to dealing with the problem of piracy, from the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, from neighbouring countries that have influence, and from the African Union," said Sheeran. "WFP is grateful for the continuing presence in the seas off Somalia of naval forces from several nations. They have been helpful on occasion in the past and they offer a potential deterrence to pirates. But we need to explore how these resources can be brought more heavily into play to protect shipping and, thereby, the delivery by sea of life-saving humanitarian assistance."