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Piracy on the high seas

France pioneers counter-piracy and promotes a comprehensive approach

As long ago as 2007, aware of the security, humanitarian and economic threat posed by the resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, France launched an operation to escort World Food Programme (WFP) ships through these hazardous waters, thereby securing the delivery under its protection of over 160,000 tonnes of food aid to Somalia.

Development of counter-piracy missions and operations

In December 2008, the EU launched its first naval mission, on the initiative of France and Spain, to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia: EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta. The aim of the operation was not only to secure the Gulf of Aden and foil pirate attacks, but also to protect shipments of food aid and materiel to Somalia by providing a naval escort for vulnerable vessels chartered by the World Food programme (WFP) or the African Union Mission on Somalia (AMISOM). France, Spain and Germany are the main contributors to the operation, on which between five and ten naval vessels are permanently deployed. The command structure is based in the United Kingdom, operating out of the multinational operational headquarters in Northwood (UK).

In response to the scale of the threat, other naval forces have gradually deployed in support of counter-piracy measures in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, on either a multinational basis, as in the case of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield or Combined Task Force 151, an ad hoc multinational coalition resulting from a US initiative, or unilaterally (China, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea, etc.).

At the same time, France continues to work through the UN Security Council (UNSC) to provide a sound mandate for counter-piracy operations in this sector of the Indian Ocean. Over the course of 2008, UNSC resolutions 1816, 1838, 1846 and 1851 established a legal framework authorising States taking part in counter-piracy operations to enter Somalia’s territorial waters – subject to strict conditions – and take action against the pirates. This legal framework has been renewed on a number of occasions, most recently by resolution 2077 adopted on 21 November 2012. Diplomatic efforts on the part of France, which pays special attention to the judicial treatment of pirates, also resulted in the adoption on 2011 of resolutions 1976 and 2015, calling for the introduction of appropriate judicial instruments for the prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment of those convicted.

France is also actively pressing for the Security Council to address the scourge of piracy in other piracy-prone regions such as the Gulf of Guinea, an issue which forms the subject of UNSC resolutions 2018 and 2039 (31 October 2011 and 29 February 2012).

France is also an active member of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and of its working groups. Following on from UNSC resolution 1851, the CGPCS was set up on 14 January 2009 to facilitate discussion and information sharing between all those involved in combating piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia. This international forum is made up of 60 countries and international organisations. It is backed by a Trust Fund, financed by contributions from governments, international organizations, private-sector firms, industry and the public at large, to support the initiatives of States in the region to ensure due judicial process for pirates (prosecution, transfer, imprisonment) and to combat piracy. France has made two contributions to the Trust Fund.

Some progress made on maritime security, but still reversible

Maritime security is now much improved, thanks largely to effective intervention by naval forces present in the region, including Operation Atalanta, to better compliance with Best Management Practices (BMP) and to growing reliance on armed security teams, whether consisting of military personnel or of privately contracted armed security personnel, aboard merchant ships.

The progress made to date could still prove reversible, however, as long as there is no significant improvement in Somalia’s security, political and economic situation. The pirates are putting their criminal organisation onto a more professional footing, acquiring better arms and perfecting their operating methods, seeking out new outlets and continuing to operate largely with impunity in the absence of any lasting jurisdictional solution.

The current situation has nonetheless paved the way for a new phase in counter-piracy initiatives, with the development of a land-based strategy and capacity-building support for States in the region. Such is the objective of the new CSDP civilian mission EUCAP Nestor, headed by French Admiral Jacques Launay, deployment of which began during the summer of 2012. As far back as 2009, the EU had set up the Critical Maritime Routes programme, with funding of €4 million, to support training and promote information sharing and the growth of trans-regional cooperation. More recently, the European Commission launched the Maritime Security (MASE) Programme, with a budget of €37 million over five years, in support of the Eastern and Southern Africa - Indian Ocean Regional Strategy and Action Plan to promote maritime security and combat piracy.

The European Union is deploying a truly comprehensive strategy to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. In November 2011, the EU appointed a Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, with a mandate to promote proactively the EU’s comprehensive policy approach towards the region. The EU is also actively supporting development in Somalia with a programme of over €390 million in aid over the 2008-2013 period.

Updated on : 08.01.13

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