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Give us the weapons and we can beat pirates

Thursday, June 28, 2012
by Awad Mustafa and Ramola Talwar Badam


Government officials from more than 50 countries are to attend a global anti-piracy conference starting in Dubai on Wednesday. // Courtesy of Nato

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DUBAI // Somalia can eliminate piracy in a year if they are given the funds they need, according to the country’s president.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, president of Somalia’s transitional federal government, yesterday called on the international community to spend money arming his navy.

“These pirates do not live at sea; they live in Somalia. Who better to battle them than the people of the land,” he told a gathering of 400 delegates at the second UAE Counter-Piracy Conference in Dubai.

“We are completely ready to combat this problem. Despite our limited funds we are ready to train and set up a marine force that would attack and dispel all pirate activities.”

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, agreed that a regionally led solution was vital. He said the UAE would donate Dh3.67 million to finding a home-grown solution.

“The UAE is happy to announce a contribution of US$1million to maritime forces in Somalia to enhance counter-piracy measures and help bring peace,” he said. “This conference is a clear message that regional partners will always work together to achieve solutions.”

According to the European Union Naval Force, which provides security to vessels sailing in affected waters, there are more than 200 seafarers being held hostage by Somali pirates.

So far this year, there have been about 30 incidents involving pirates. And, while the pirates’ success rate has been halved from 28 per cent in 2009 to 14 per cent last year, the level of violence used on seafarers has escalated.

The Somali president said he had between 5,000 and 6,000 men ready to be trained as an anti-piracy force.

“We want the international community to provide them with arms, materials and equipment,” he said.

His request would cost a third of what has been paid in ransom by shipping companies over the past four years. Between 2008 and 2012, he said, profits worth US$700m were made from piracy.

Apart from funds, Mr Ahmed said his country also needed help from the international community to protect Somalia’s maritime rights.

“Ships fishing in our waters and companies dumping chemical waste on our shores have to be stopped. They have been taking advantage of our situation and the international community should help us stop them.”

To achieve that goal, he said the police force in Somalia needed upgrading, the judicial system needed reform and infrastructure for jails had to be developed.

Henry Bellingham, the British minister for Africa and counter-piracy, said he agreed these issues had been problems in the past.
“It’s fair to say illegal fishing and dumping toxic waste is an historic problem, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s a key priority now,” he said. “We have to be cautious it doesn’t recur.”

Mr Bellingham praised the UAE’s plans to help build Somalia’s maritime capability.

“The emirates have made it very clear that they want to put money into building coastguard maritime capacity in Somalia,” he said. “The European Union too has a programme to train coastguard personnel in the region.

He added, however, that training Somalis to fight piracy was not a quick fix.

“What Sheikh Sharif is asking for, it’s a long-term aspiration because it’s essential people are properly trained,” Mr Bellingham said. “You can’t just put a person in a naval uniform and give him a vessel. It’s not just a question of supplying coastguard vessels, there has to be training of personnel. It’s a long-term proposition.”

Somalis will go to the polls on August 20 to elect a new parliament and president. Last week, Mr Ahmed announced he would be seeking a second term.

The second UAE Counter-Piracy Conference, jointly organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and global marine terminal operator DP World, will continue today in Dubai.

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