September 1, 2012
NATO Flagship HNLMS Rotterdam with dhow Burhan Noor
Earlier this week, six suspected pirates were transferred from HNLMS Rotterdam to the authorities of the Seychelles. They were apprehended by NATO's TF 508 flagship on the 13th of August during the liberation of the dhow Burhan Noor. In the two weeks that followed, many people in various ministries, headquarters, prosecutor offices and embassies worked hard to find a fitting sequence. The result was an agreement to bring the six Somali's to justice in the Seychelles.
Gone are the days when the default seemed to be putting apprehended suspected pirates back on the beach. As the counter piracy effort is effecting positive results, so has the international community been able to make steps towards a more robust system for prosecution.
Ongoing naval patrols (and actions), best management practices on board the ships, including security teams, and this more robust prosecution system are all vital elements of the international campaign to bring an end to piracy in the waters around the Horn of Africa.
The naval element of the international effort seems very much a straightforward one. We are here to catch pirates, preferably before they even get close to merchant ships. In doing so, we ensure safe passage and access to ports for merchant ships, critical pre-requisites for the international trade and thus our global economy.
With the pressure at sea for the pirates clearly on, it is now necessary to seek ways to further improve (lasting) effectiveness. This could be achieved by making the freedom of movement ashore more difficult and preventing pirates from properly preparing and finalizing their work. In addition, we need to set the conditions that reverses the economic downturn in Somalia. A situation that has proved to be fertile ground for piracy. The local population in Somalia and in particular in Puntland play an important role. They can and must benefit as well as contribute for the piracy problem to be eradicated.
A safe and secure sea will not only allow international trade to pass safely, but also regional and local trade to pick up. Reopening once profitable fish canneries and restoring a once thriving dhow trade system are just two examples of what a safe and secure environment could do. Pirates who end up in jail instead of spending money and destabilizing communities, will go far to unmask the myth of "piracy for the good”.
Promotion of economic activity, security ashore, provisions of services, they are not activities very well suited for a naval Task Force. Other organisations are better suited. What we, as a naval Task Force, can do is setting conditions and, within means and capabilities, make a start when others are not present yet. It will further counter piracy effectiveness and extend maritime safety and security to the coast and hopefully beyond.
Over the last thee months, ships of TF 508 have conducted many friendly approaches on local fishermen. The rhibs and other small boats of NATO's counter piracy task force have become a common sight in coastal waters, for both the local fishermen as well as the regional traders (mostly from UAE, Yemen and Oman). This enabled increasingly valuable exchange of information and subsequently resulted in a meeting with a large number of village elders, all from the region of Bari. During this meeting I was able to listen to their concerns, their wishes, their appreciation. On my side, I was able to explain what we do, why we do it and how we do it. Together we agreed that piracy is blocking international development as well as regional and local development. We also agreed that the key to combined success is to be found in cooperation and information exchange.
Today, HNLMS Rotterdam conducted a medical assistance program in the remote villages of Bandar Murcayo and Xhabo. Another step in this gradual process of involving the coastal region in the counter piracy effort. Over 100 villagers were seen by the doctors, with many happy faces of patients and medics alike the result. It was noticed by the local people that NATO and the international counter piracy effort are not there to chase Somali fishermen off the sea, as often stated by the pirates. It did reassure the local people that Somalia should not only be seen as the source of piracy. It did reassure the villagers that they have a role to play in countering the piracy problem.
The monsoon is about to abate. Pirates will seek chances, again. At sea we will maintain a sharp lookout, maintain the pressure, keep them away from the merchants. Along the coast, we will seek to prevent them from coercing traders and fishermen to provide transport in their dhows to the hunting grounds. Ashore, I hope the pirates will be confronted by a new commitment of villagers to get rid of the pirates. Villagers, who feel their role is recognised by the international community. By sharing information with the local people, we can achieve a synergy that will push the pirates back further and further. As one village elder told me: when your roof is leaking, you may place a bucket, you may mop the floor, but ultimately you must go up on the roof to fix the leak. The buckets are there, mops are in hand, we are up on the roof. Time now to repair the roof. With help from the sea. For starters.