Saturday, February 20, 2010
Tom Countryman, Principal Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, gave a briefing on Thursday regarding the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. Mr. Countryman noted that In the year since the Contact Group was formed, its membership has grown from 24 countries to 47 countries and a number of international organizations.
Mr. Countryman observed that the root causes of piracy off the coast of Somalia rest in the state of disorder that has characterized Somalia for 20 years, and that an effective solution to the piracy question will require further efforts to re-stabilize Somalia. The Contact Group attempts to manage the consequences of that disorder, specifically as they relate to piracy and the disruption to trade in the region, as well as the human cost that this imposes both upon the people of Somalia and upon seafarers in the region. Mr. Countryman also noted that while piracy remains a serious challenge to maritime safety, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and global commerce, the Contact Group’s concerted effort has made a positive difference contributing toward a declining success rate of pirate attacks from as high as 60 percent in 2007 to less than 25 percent today.
According to Mr. Countryman, the success rate for pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, the body of water between the Somalia and Yemen coastlines, has fallen to nearly zero. There has been only one successful hijacking in that area since last summer. However, that success has shifted the focus of pirate attacks southward into the Somali Basin, a body of water twice as large as the Gulf of Aden. And the success rate for pirate attacks in that area has gone up, as has the absolute number of attempts in that region. He estimated that the international force had encountered slightly more than 700 pirates in 2009; that 400 attempted attacks had been disrupted; and that between 200 and 300 pirates had been turned over for prosecution.
Mr. Countryman asserted that the Contract Group has made steady progress in the coordination of military, business, and legal measures to deal with the consequences of piracy and political disorder in Somalia. With respect to military coordination, he noted that more than 20 nations are now participating in an international naval force in the Gulf of Aden, stating: "On any given day there are, on average, 17 ships in patrol in the Gulf of Aden creating a recognized transit corridor that provides maximum security for the 30,000 cargo ships that pass through this area every year."
In addition, over the last year, the Contact Group worked closely with the International Maritime Organization to establish and codify best management practices that ships should employ when they are in dangerous territory. According to Mr. Countryman, the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration have required U.S.-flagged vessels to employ these practices when they are delivering food aid or undertaking other commercial voyages in that region. The United States hopes to see other major flag nations require the same kind of best practices of their commercial ships that operate in the region.
With respect to legal prosecutions, Mr. Countryman stated that the United States believes that as piracy has long been defined as a universal crime, every state has the jurisdiction to prosecute pirates. The United States therefore encourages the states affected by piracy to prosecute pirates. In this regard, Mr. Countryman praised Kenya for stepping forward and offering itself as a site for the prosecution of suspected pirates.