India- Africa Strategic Dialogue: Session III - Regional Issues - Piracy
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  • The third session was chaired by former Vice Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva. The two speakers were Mr. Richard Barno, Senior Research & Policy Advisor to the IGAD Capacity Building Program Against Terrorism (ICPAT), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Commander S. S. Parmar, Research Fellow, IDSA.

    Richard Barno advocated a forceful regional response to piracy. According to him, the piracy off the coast of Somalia which he prefers to call ‘piracy linked to Somalia’ is a growth industry with its impact on both Somalia and the regions adjacent to it. There have been talks of developing a network for information exchange and attempts to prosecute the pirates but a number of complexities have deterred the countries from speeding up the process. The international initiatives to counter piracy have been welcomed, but have not been embraced by the region. He suggested that for any counter piracy strategy there is a need to focus on three Cs — community participation, capacity building, coordination — and invited India to take initiative for counter piracy cooperation. Illustrating on the cost of piracy, he stated that it lies somewhere between $5 billion to $8 billion, which is 0.2 per cent of the global maritime trade. He referred to illegal fishing and dumping of toxic wastes near the coast of Somalia as two important causes for Somali people opting for sea piracy which has now turned into an organised crime. The characteristic of the Somali sea piracy differs from the traditional one as they are more concerned about ransom than selling loaded goods on the captured vessel. He expressed his concerns about the increasing use of sophisticated instruments by the pirates, intelligence available to them, price rise and unnecessary expenses as increased transportation costs and self-defence mechanisms set up due to piracy.

    Though there is a Somali inland strategy to counter piracy, there are real capacity issues with the African countries. In this regard Indian efforts in patrolling the waters off the Somali coast are appreciable. However, any scheme in future must include local communities and the focus should be on building trust among them. The exploitation of Somali cultural values to turn the tide against piracy, and facilitating alternative livelihood should be the two pillars of the strategy.

    According to Barno, stabilising Somalia is the best way to ensure maritime security and a big effort by the international community is required to align the Somali mind with the international mind. For the Somali people, fishing and toxic dumping pose bigger concerns than the piracy issue. There can be no solution without addressing the above concerns. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) should be taken as the facilitator for the implementation of the strategy and ultimately reconciliation among the Somalis.

    The world community should focus on enhancing the institutional capacities of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Puntland and Somaliland. Puntland has a fairly efficient administration which may help in strengthening the other pillars of the strategy like patrol or observation bases, creating human capacity, forensics, data collection, and support for establishment of domestic legal instrumentalities.

    Finally, he said that the issue of piracy has at least ensured that the international community pays the desired attention on Somalia. He concluded by emphasising on the need to let the counter piracy operations be Somalia-led since the region has not yet embraced the Western efforts.

    S. S. Parmar presented a paper titled “Rise in Piracy-A Case Study Somalia.” He identified instability, conflict and poverty as the drivers of the rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia. Similar to Barno’s analysis, he also considered illegal fishing and toxic dumping near the coast of Somalia as catalysts to the rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia. He argued that the problem of piracy should be seen as ‘economic terrorism’.

    He identified ransom, insurance, deterrent equipments, changes in ship design, rerouting, naval force deployments and prosecution of pirates as the factors directly increasing the costs of maritime trade. The secondary costs due to piracy are the adverse impact on regional trade, fishing, industry, rise in food prices, reduced foreign investment etc.

    The main problem in understanding and dealing sea piracy is the non-availability of data about the exact ransom amount paid, increase in insurance costs, cost of rerouting, number of pirates, pirates’ financial sponsors, their links with terrorist groups etc. The cost of piracy has risen from relatively meagre $80,000 in 2006 to somewhere between $7-12 billion in 2010. It has turned out to be a lucrative business for the pirates.

    Speaking on the problems and complexities involved in dealing with the pirates, he emphasised on the need to coin a universal definition of piracy and explained how there is a complete chaos of laws in dealing with it. He stated that the UNCLOS (full form) is highly restrictive but different UN resolutions have mandated the navies to interdict pirates even outside the high seas.

    Regarding the future role of India-Africa cooperation in counter piracy, Parmar advocated joint active and aggressive patrolling, making the Djibouti Code of Conduct as legally binding, making payment of ransom illegal, looking at modalities of prosecution and expanding capacities within the prisons. He informed that some steps have already been taken and India has started exercising with East African countries. A working group has been set up to look into the economics of piracy and three ships of the Indian Navy patrol the Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the area near Seychelles at any given time.

    The following points were highlighted in the Q & A session:

    • There are problems in the terminologies related to piracy. It was debated whether kidnappings and extortions on seas can be termed as piracy at all. It was informed that Kenya has taken the definition of piracy from the Suva Convention but the problem is how many would accept that. Equating piracy with terrorism is problematic as there is no politico-ideological base for piracy unlike terrorism. Calling piracy as ‘economic terrorism’ was also contested.
    • In addition to the absence of anti-piracy laws and prison capacities in most of the countries, lack of evidence and lack of witnesses were identified as the biggest problems in the prosecution of the pirates. So, an urgent need to have different laws was felt. It was enquired whether international laws allow going on land in hot pursuit of pirates and arresting them. But, certainly, this becomes difficult because of the lives of hostages involved in it. The prosecution of pirates is extremely complicated because of the debate over the very definition of piracy and its sponsors. The real culprits of piracy often go unpunished as the pirates being prosecuted may not know the brains behind their act. The possibility of prosecuting them on economic basis was also raised as anti - piracy laws may be weak and insufficient, but there are ample economic laws.
    • The involvement of the political groups in Somalia in piracy worsens the situation. Al-Shabaab had taken hostage of some pirates because it was not given the percentage in the ransom amounts. There is also some evidence of Al-Shabaab being involved in the training of the pirates. A few politicians from Puntland and the TFG have also been alleged of involvement in piracy.
    • Unhindered supply of finances to the pirates is a major concern. Ransoms are coming from America and Europe which is equivalent to financing terrorism. The real problem is in identifying the people behind piracy for which the creation of data collection network is essential. The government officials in the pseudo-states would not implement any data collection plan as they reportedly get a cut from the pirates. Though bringing the pirates back to normal life is difficult, criminalising the act of paying ransom might help. A determined political will is required to cut the finances and support to the pirates.
    • The focus should be on stabilisation through the IGAD and, probably, a comparison between Afghanistan and other failed states is required.
    • The absence of strategic interest of any nation in Somalia is the major constraint in coming together of the international community to solve its problems. Piracy has a destabilising potential for other economies as it has destabilised the Somalian and Kenyan economies. It is not the entire society that benefits from piracy, but only a very small section of the population. It also leads rise in prostitution, drugs problem, etc.

    The Chair in his remark said that a figure of $8 billion was mentioned by the Western navies as the cost of being in the region, out of which $2 billion was mentioned as the cost of counter piracy deployment measures. But, these are said to be mere pretexts as they would have been there even without piracy. They are just accounting it as counter piracy expenditure what in real terms is their strategic expenditure. He, finally, emphasised on the need to cut finances to the pirates and to seriously look for methods to it.

    Report prepared by Saurabh Mishra, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi