Commander SS Parmar started his presentation by delineating the scope of the study, which was to study the menace of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, areas that are severely affected by the incidents of piracy in the recent past. He argued that initially pirates were more of a nuisance than a threat, but in the absence of organised resistance, piracy flourished. Parmar then talked about the four pillars on which piracy thrives- geography, political instability, safe havens, and economics. His paper attempted to identify the stages and reasons for the advent of modern day piracy, examined the economic and legal factors, the international response including India’s response and future role. It also attempted “to answer a few questions that have arisen – mainly – Why was piracy allowed to rise to the extent it has? Why was there a delayed response to combat piracy? And finally - Is land operations the only solution to stem piracy?”
Building further on his “four pillars” argument, the author said that Somalia is a classic case of instability driven piracy. Somalia is a failed state since the government collapsed in 2001. This failure led to a lack of governance and subsequent high incidence of poverty which in tandem with two activities that could be viewed as the catalysts opened the doors for the advent and rise in piracy The first activity was fishing by outsiders in Somalian waters that destroyed the livelihood of the Somalian fishermen; a community that was considered a richer sect in the nation. The second issue was the dumping of toxic waste in Somalian waters.
Cdr Parmar then discussed the three stages of piracy. The first stage was between 1995 and 2000 when the local fishermen decided to take the law into their own hands and started boarding foreign fishing vessels accusing them of fishing illegally and sought compensation. This stage could be summed up as the unorganized stage of piracy. Instability in Somalia, following the fall of Siad Barre government in 1991, resulted in the formation of various groups that organised themselves into pirate groups and this led to the second stage of piracy characterised by the emergence of several organised pirate groups, out of which four main “gangs” are in the ‘business’ of piracy. The author further argued that the third stage, when piracy would reach the status of an independent state, has commenced as pirates in Somalia could be viewed as a state within a state having links with other non state actors, especially terrorist groups. Linkages with state actors, however, cannot be ruled out. These linkages could be largely attributed to the economic factors. The economics of piracy is a complex study which is restricted by the little information available in the public domain. He said that some of the pirate groups are better armed and funded than regional authorities. Million dollar ransoms combined with a lack of accountability have encouraged this growth. He viewed this as a clear interpretation that the third stage of piracy has commenced.
Commander Parmar then delved on the legal framework for combating piracy and the practical problems nations face in arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating convicted pirates. “The legal issues today have become more complex as the world has more independent nations and companies with enormous investments in the maritime domain. These issues are not insolvable and require a political will and an international understanding of the magnitude of the problem of piracy. Nations require bringing anti-piracy laws into effect, setting up fast track courts and adopting a more cogent approach towards combating piracy”. He went on to advocate equating piracy to terrorism for a variety of reasons although the objectives of the two were different. “Elevating piracy at par with terrorism could obviate the requirement to pass new laws and higher levels of cooperation and only require amendments in the existing international order. Piracy could be viewed as Economic Terrorism”, he said.
The international response to piracy could, at best, be described as “sluggish and reactionary”. “It was only when the magnitude of the threat breached the threshold of ‘acceptability’ that action was initiated”. Parmar said that “there is a growing consensus that land operations are the solution to piracy. If the four pillars of piracy are considered as geography, political instability, safe havens and economics, then land operations would eliminate political instability and safe havens and aid in addressing the economic factor”. But, despite the mandate of the UNSC Resolutions, very little has been done to tackle the problem from landward due to several constraints.
The final section of Commander Parmar’s presentation examined the effect of piracy on India, and the steps taken by the state to counter this threat. He pointed out that “piracy is occurring in the waters in the immediate vicinity of India and whilst transit through piracy infested waters can be avoided by other nations by rerouting, the same cannot be done by India as India’s maritime trade routes originate and terminate in the waters surrounding it. Secondly, the maritime route through the Gulf of Aden is important for India as the Indian imports through the Gulf have been valued at $50 billion while the exports have been valued at $60 billion”. These factors have made the government realize the need to tackle the problem since piracy is affecting the maritime interests of India and is growing in magnitude. “Cognisance of this development has been reflected in the Ministry of Defence Annual Report 2010 – 2011. It proposes a proactive role under the UN Flag to tackle the maritime threat of piracy. Actions taken by agencies including the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Police have resulted in apprehension of a number of pirates the largest being 61 in March 2011.” Subsequent to this operation against piracy, government has asked the Indian Navy not to arrest any more pirates and bring them to India. This would restrict the navy to a ‘hold, disarm and leave’ policy. Indian government seems to be reeling under the pressure of the pirates who are not shying away from playing the hostage card. Parmar said, “At a time when India is pushing the UN for more action against piracy, this policy shift will not only dilute the progress made in the Indian fight against piracy but also reduce India’s standing as a proactive anti piracy nation”. Therefore, he suggested two staged action plan for India– the short and immediate term and the long term. “The short term would be to firstly, introduce effective national anti piracy laws. Secondly, formulate a regional anti piracy cooperative group that would operate in mid ocean areas and cover the SLOCs not patrolled as of now. Thirdly and most importantly not take a soft stand against piracy by means of appeasement”. Some of the long term measures would be; revision of UNCLOS articles on piracy, pursue and assist agendas of the working groups formulated under CGPCS, setting up of a working group on the economic factor, etc. Parmar concluded by saying that the world could no longer afford to ignore the threat of piracy. If the issues raised above were not addressed, then the third stage of piracy which has already commenced, would take hold and that would increase the stakes manifold.
Vice Admiral (Retd) Pradeep Kaushiva complimented Commander Parmar and said that as India’s seafarers are targeted by the pirates, action on the part of the government is inevitable. The recent policy of ‘hold, disarm and leave’ is a temporary and transitional one. He also informed the gathering that the panellists of this event also constitute one of the government’s initiatives on piracy – “Oceans beyond Piracy – India Working Group”. He pointed out that the international trade was well organized but human security was the least taken care of and most vulnerable. He also said that AL-Qaeda was well entrenched in the Gulf of Aden and it was only a matter of time before they gained complete control over the issue of piracy. Drawing attention to the practical difficulties of the victims of piracy, he said that lack of evidence was the main cause for the pirates not being prosecuted. In response to the queries of many participants he threw light on the ransom business and said that governments do not directly get themselves involved in the ransom issues. They however, put pressure on the parties involved for the safe release of the hostages. Finally, he said that we need to address Piracy and not pirates that is to look into the “agencies and institutional actors across the ‘Piracy Value Chain”, as Parmar has suggested. He concluded by thanking the panellists and the gathering for a constructive engagement, and the IDSA for addressing the issue of piracy.