At an event celebrating Combating Piracy Week, the United States of America today reported the world has made remarkable progress in curbing incidents of piracy attack off the coast of Somalia.
In his remarks in London, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Kelly reported that in 2007 and 2008, pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia began to escalate dramatically.
“A vicious and reinforcing cycle was forming.” -Mr. Thomas
He states that motivated by escalating ransom payments which grew into the millions of dollars and a lack of other employment opportunities, more and more Somali men took to the waters.
Mr. Thomas adds that Piracy, as a result, went from a fairly “ad hoc,” disorganized endeavor to a highly developed transnational criminal enterprise.
Flush with money, pirates were able to improve their capabilities and expand their operations further and further away from shore, he stressed.
He cites that since that time, Somali pirates have hijacked more than 175 vessels and attacked more than 400 vessels that we know of, likely many others.
“They have kidnapped thousands of crewmembers from over 40 countries.” -Mr. Thomas
He says pirates still hold hostages from at least 20 countries.
In a globalized world, the impact of piracy in one area can ripple across the globe, Mr. Thomas noted.
People in countries around the world depend on secure and reliable shipping lanes for their food, their energy, and their consumer goods brought by cargo ships and tankers, Mr. Thomas said.
According to Mr. Thomas, by preying on commercial ships in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, pirates off the Horn of Africa threaten more than just individual ships.
He says pirates threaten a central artery of the global economy – and that means that they threaten global security and exact a painful toll.
“Action “had” to be taken.” -Mr. Thomas
He pointed out that while there seemed to be no limit to the growth of piracy, through the collective effort of the United States, the UK, NATO, the EU, the broader international community, and the private sector, we are now seeing signs of “dramatic progress.”
Mr. Thomas reports that according to figures from the U.S. Navy, they are on track to experience a 75 percent decline in pirate attacks this year compared with 2011.
The world is seeing fewer attempted attacks in no small measure because pirates were less successful at hijacking ships.
In 2011, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by half. This year, in 2012, the number of successful attacks has continued to decline, Mr. Thomas cited.
To date, pirates have captured ten vessels this year, compared to 34 in 2011 and 68 in 2010, Mr. Thomas states.
The last successful Somali pirate attack on a major commercial vessel was more than five months ago on May 10, 2012, he added.
He stresses that the lack of success at sea means that pirates are holding fewer and fewer hostages.
In January 2011, pirates held 31 ships and 710 hostages, Mr. Thomas reported.
“Today, pirates hold five ships and 143 hostages.” -Mr. Thomas
That is roughly a 75 percent reduction in ships and hostages held by pirates since January 2011, he noted.
“While this is still unacceptably high, the trend is clear. We are making significant progress.” -Mr. Thomas
To address the threats of piracy, Mr. Thomas talk about the U.S. government response to piracy.
In combating piracy, the United States has pursued an integrated multi-dimensional approach that is rooted in what Secretary Clinton described as “smart power.”
“This approach has involved utilizing every tool in our tool kit.” -Mr. Thomas
While the problem of piracy of the Horn of Africa was a problem that affected the United States, piracy affects the whole international community, he states.
“It could only be effectively addressed through broad, coordinated, and comprehensive international action.” -Mr. Thomas
According to Mr. Thomas, the United States has helped lead the international response and galvanize international action.
In January 2009, the United States helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to both prompt action and coordinate the efforts to suppress Somali piracy.
He says the Contact Group is based on voluntary membership and was established concurrent with the UN Security Council’s passage of Resolution 1851 in 2008.
The Group now includes over 70 nations as well as international and maritime industry organizations, to help coordinate national and international counter-piracy policies and actions.
However, Mr. Thomas pointed out that while the world has made great gains against piracy, piracy remains an ever-present threat.
“A ship or vessel could be pirated tomorrow. More hostages could be taken and brutalized.” -Mr. Thomas
Mr. Thomas underlined that working together, theyhave made great strides.
“We now need to ensure that those gains are not carelessly discarded, leaving us to fight for them once again.” -Mr. Thomas
Mr. Thomas encourages leaders to continue to work together to close the door on Somali piracy.
U.S. and international naval forces have thwarted pirate attacks in progress, engaged pirate skiffs and mother-ships, and successfully taken back hijacked ships during opposed boardings.
The world has sought to deter piracy, through effective apprehension, prosecution and incarceration of pirates and their supporters and financiers.
Today, over 1,000 pirates are in custody in some 20 countries around the world, many of whom have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
The US government has also sought to rally the wider international community to address the problem posed by piracy.
Piracy continues to pose a severe threat to the maritime industry, global trade and therefore the entire global economy.
In 2010, 286 piracy-related incidents off the coast of Somalia were reported, resulting in 67 hijacked ships, with 1,130 seafarers on board; while a recent study estimated the cost to the world economy from disruptions to international trade at between $7 billion and $12 billion.