Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time for Resolute Action

After months of being held hostage, Somali pirates finally released MV Suez and its crew - including six Indians - after receiving a ransom of $2.1 mn, collected with help from Pakistan's Ansal Burney, a human rights activist. Ironically, as the ship was sailing back home, it was attacked by pirates again, although it managed to fend them off this time.

The Gulf of Aden has been a hornet's nest for seafarers for years now. Several navies are on active patrol in the region but they do no coordinate with each other. Officially, the navies are tasked with providing escort to ships carrying their country's flag through an Internationally-delineated corridor. On humanitarian grounds, they often provide assistance to ships carrying other flags as well (as the Indian Navy has done).

However, despite the amount of good work that has already been done, much more needs to be done. Military strategy tells you that the number of men (or ships, in this case) you have is not important rather, their strategy is coordination matters. As of today, each Navy is on its own mission. There is a pressing need to bring this under a unified mission directed by the United Nations. Furthermore, it should be the Indian Ocean littoral states that are tasked with maintaining safety in the region (as of today, only two Indian Ocean littoral states have navies there - India and Pakistan).

Another major issue is the lack of an International legal framework to tackle piracy. Although the UNCLOS does discuss activities which may and may not be allowed within a nation's EEZ, most piracy takes place either in International waters or in the EEZ of Somalia, which does not have a Government. Many navies, including the Indian Navy, have arrested pirates only to be faced with the baffling question of what to do with them. One way is to try them under domestic law, but there are jurisdictional issues. The best solution would be an International Law to deal with this and the UNGA can take it up as early as this year.

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden is a huge problem that is spreading. Pirates have comes dangerously close to the Maldivian mainland and India's EEZ in the Laccadive Sea. They will have to be fought resolutely and it is important for the International community to come together for this. While the work of individual countries is commendable here, very little can come out without a coordinated response.

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