A Somali operation of World War proportions

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The Contact Group on Somali Piracy (CGSP) holds its inaugural meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, pursuant to last December’s UN Security Council Resolution 1851, which authorises states to use armed forces onshore to defeat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. It is incumbent on them to focus on coordination to suppress not only piracy in the region, but also seek ways of avoiding intelligence breaches between states which could lead to much bitter repercussions.

The 24 participating countries as well as the five multilateral organisations expected at the inaugural meeting, Wednesday (January 14), are to discuss how to improve operational and intelligence support to counter-piracy operations, establish a counter-piracy coordination mechanism, strengthen judicial frameworks for the arrest, prosecution and detention of pirates, and strengthen commercial shipping self-awareness and other capabilities.

Improved diplomatic and public information efforts are also needed to disrupt the pirates’ financial operations as well as to avoid any possible friction among states involved in the fight against the criminal activities.

Notwithstanding the effectiveness of the fourth in the series of UN Security Council resolutions on Somali pirate operations, criminal attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have continued, forcing many countries to intervene militarily.

With about 20,000 ships cruising its waters annually and an estimated 7 to 12 per cent of the world’s oil transitting the Gulf of Aden, it is no wonder that activities hampering the free flow of maritime activities in the area have, and not surprisingly so, affected almost every part of the world.

A cocktail of powerful forces

Faced with an inescapable responsibility to protect its one thousand two hundred plus commercial ships that go through the Gulf of Aden annually, China –, alongside Russia, India and Iran,– has been left with no choice but to weigh in its big guns, while the European Union has moved to authorise its first ever outside zone naval operation (Operation Atalanta). The United States, meanwhile, is assembling a twenty-nation anti-pirate force among which Australia is expected to join, following Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston’s indication last week that Australia was considering taking part in the operation.

The cocktail of powerful countries involved in the operation reflect an urgent need to focus on coordination between states and organisations to suppress not only piracy in the Gulf of Aden as well as the Indian Ocean, but also seek ways of avoiding intelligence breaches as both traditional and relatively new maritime forces meet in the same waters.

Somali pirates, who have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars and acquired an avant-garde knowledge in the use of technology (global positioning systems and satellite phones), will not survive the pressure of a combined military operation worthy of a World War, but whether the world would get out unscathed is highly dependent on a solid regulatory framework governing the seemingly ordinary but extremely sensitive operation.

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