Australia: International Efforts Keep Piracy Down but Trade Routes Still at Risk
The Director of Combined Maritime Forces in the Gulf region says international efforts have led to a fall in piracy attacks against merchant shipping and local fishing dhows but the risk to trade remains high.
The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre reported just one attempted attack by Somali pirates from July 2012 to September 2012, compared with 36 incidents in the same three month period last year.
Speaking from CMF’s Headquarters in Bahrain, RAN Captain Bruce Legge said that whilst the figures are encouraging, it does not signal an end to piracy nor a dramatic improvement to maritime security in the region.
“Our area of responsibility here stretches across a challenging 2.5 million square kilometres – an area about the size of mainland Australia,” CAPT Legge said.
“The decrease in piracy is due in a large part to the ongoing coordinated efforts of the CMF counter-piracy Taskforce 151, with the Task Forces from the EUNAVFOR and NATO. The RAN always has a frigate in the region conducting maritime security patrols – right now that frigate is HMAS Anzac. However, local factors also played a part in the IMB reported statistics, including an increased awareness of piracy by the merchant ships and fishing vessels and the Southwest monsoon period which prevents pirates getting off the beach in Somalia. Nonetheless, the encouraging fact is that we are not seeing a dramatic upsurge in piracy now that the monsoon season has ended.”
Whilst unrest and lack of governance in Somalia has been widely attributed to providing the conditions necessary to perpetuate the sort of maritime piracy where ships are held for ransoms, in recent months there has been a change in the presidency and government which is seeking to rectify the instability of the nation.
There has been a significant growth in international shipping and container traffic in recent years. The Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in general are critical to global trade. It is said that more than 23,000 ships per year passage through the Gulf of Aden, either going to or from the Suez Canal.
“As our Chief of Navy has recently stated, the Indian Ocean is critical to the end-to-end global trading system on which Australia depends,” CAPT Legge said.
“Whether ships come through the Gulf of Aden, the Suez Canal or through the Strait of Hormuz – the goods or material they carry might not be bound for Australia, but, they are almost certainly bound for one of our major trading partners.”
In December, the RAN will assume Command of Combined Task Force 150, focusing on Maritime Security Operations, ensuring that the lawful and stable maritime environment is free from terrorism, smuggling and other illegal activities.
Naval Today Staff, December 4, 2012; Image: Royal Australian Navy