EU Naval Commander says no room for complacency despite dip in Somali piracy

EU Naval Force Operation Commander warned a room full of shipping executives that while Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden is down, there is no room for complacency regarding the on-going threat.

Major General Martin Smith MBE gave the warning at a meeting Wednesday with senior shipping industry representatives, part of the London International Shipping Week. During his speech, Major General Smith welcomed the significant reduction in Somali-based piracy since 2012, stating that the reduction can be attributed to a collective effort by shipping companies and international naval forces in the region, including the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR).

The General warned that while the opportunity for pirates to get out to sea and attack ships had reduced, the pirates’ intent and capability remains.

“It is clear that we have (together) come a long way since early 2011, when 736 hostages and 32 ships were being held for ransom in anchorages off Somali beaches, Major General Smith said at the meeting. “However, the recent incidents of Iranian dhows being captured by groups of armed men demonstrate that there are still some who are prepared to go out to sea and take vessels for ransom.”

Major General Smith went on to say that because of the naval patrols and self-protection measures by merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, including the use of private armed security teams, counter-piracy forces assess that the threat from long-range pirate attacks in the near future is reduced.

“Collectively we have been able to curtail their use of mother ships to attack far from the coast, but I remain convinced that if pirates perceive that we are lowering our guard, they will seize the opportunity and plan an attack on a vulnerable ship. And if they take one ship, this could re-energize their business model, which you know all too well, could cost the international community and shipping industry dearly,” Major General Smith added.

EUNAVFOR’s main tasks is to escort merchant vessels carrying humanitarian aid for the World Food Programme (WFP) and vessels of AMISOM as they transit along the Somali coast, and to deter and disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. EU Naval Force warships also monitor fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.

The current European Union Naval Force ATALANTA mandate runs until December 2016. In the coming months, EU Member States will carry out a strategic review of the piracy threat to enable them to make a collective decision on how to best proceed post-2016. 

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