Contact Group says Somali piracy continues to be threat to maritime activity

09:29, July 15, 2011      

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Somali piracy remains a threat to maritime vessels from all over the world, according to members of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, who spoke to reporters here Thursday.

"We all know that the international community has been working very hard to address both the symptoms and the root causes of the Somali piracy," said Mary Seet-Cheng, senior specialist adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore and a member of the contact group. "Despite our best efforts, piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a threat to international shipping and seafarers from all over the world."

Members of the contact group, including the chairs of its four internal working groups, held a briefing for press on the sidelines of their ninth plenary meeting.

Seet-Cheng said that although the numbers of vessels and seafarers taken by pirates have dipped slightly since March 2011 when the contact group last met, other elements of the piracy problem are worsening.

"Over the past year, we have seen the pirates extending their area of operations beyond the Somalia coast, increasing their use of pirated vessels as mother ships and using high levels of violence against seafarers," she noted.

Ambassador Thomas Winkler, legal advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and chair of working group number two said that his group has been busy working on clarifying the legal complications involved with prosecuting pirates.

"We've been working now for two and a half years, we've put together, what we call the legal toolbox which is an electronic version of a lot of documents which will provide almost all of the answers that states and organizations need in the legal field," he said. "If you want to enter into an agreement with another state on transfer you can go to the legal toolbox and see how it's done just to mention one example."

Winkler added that the transnational nature of the piracy problem poses legal challenges.

"Of course we have to work on to ensure that even more suspected pirates are prosecuted and to this end we are focused on what we call post-trial transfer to ensure that pirates who are convicted in one state are incarcerated in their homeland, in the part of Somalia that they are originally from," he said.

Chris Holtby, deputy head of the Security Policy Department of Britain said that working group one, which he chairs, is helping countries build their capacity to apprehend, incarcerate, and try suspected pirates.

"We are providing the resources from governments to implement capacity building programs in the legal sector, in the prison sector, in military and coast guards to help the countries in the region take on piracy themselves," Holtby said. "There have been very big steps taken in the last couple of years by countries such as the Seychelles, Kenya, and even within Somalia to build prisons, courts, and their coast guard."

Seet-Cheng said that there will be discussion about the creation of a fifth working group, which would focus on coordinating the disruption of pirate enterprises.

"In the course of the contact group's work over the past few years, we have also realized that the solution to Somalia piracy would not be complete if we did not also consider the financial aspects of piracy, especially the question of how to target the piracy leaders, financiers, and negotiators, and the financial networks that sustain Somalia piracy," she explained.

According to Seet-Cheng, a communique by the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia will be issued on Thursday evening to relay the conclusions reached in discussions at the ninth plenary.

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