Piracy on the high seas


France: a pioneer in the global fight against piracy

France led the first initiatives

According to a report published in January2014 by the International Maritime Bureau, piracy in2013 dropped to its lowest level since 2007. A total of 264 attacks were recorded in2013, 40% fewer than in2011. These overall figures reflect the sharp decrease in the number of incidents occurring off the coast of Somalia over the same period.

Starting in2007, France led the first initiatives to combat the resurgence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, aware of the humanitarian, economic and security threat that it posed. The French authorities are still contributing to the operations run by the European Union (EUNAVFOR Atalanta, EUCAPNestor) and NATO (OceanShield). The European regional mission EUCAPNestor has in fact been headed by French Ambassador Etienne de Poncins since the summer of2012. Its aim is to build the maritime and judicial capacities of countries in the Horn of Africa. Military capacities are also being strengthened in Somalia, with the help of EUTMSomalia, a mission launched in2010.

A comprehensive approach, on land and at sea

Since2007, France has been launching operations to escort World Food Programme (WFP) ships, to ensure that food aid reaches Somalia safely by sea.

In December2008, the first European Union naval operation was launched, on the initiative of France and Spain, to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. EUNAVFORAtalanta seeks not only to increase security in the Gulf of Aden and intercept groups of pirates, but also to protect the transport of food aid or equipment to Somalia, by escorting ships sent by the World Food Programme (WFP) or the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). France, Germany and Spain are the main contributors to this operation, which is commanded by the United Kingdom from the Operational Headquarters at Northwood.

Due to the scale of the threat, other naval forces have gradually been deployed in the Indian Ocean. These operations, which include OceanShield, launched by NATO in2009, Combined Task Force151, set up on the initiative of the United States, and action taken at national level by many countries (China, India, Iran, Japan, Russia, South Korea, etc.), represent a total of over thirty ships constantly patrolling the area.

In addition to its naval efforts, France, as part of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), promotes a comprehensive sea- and land-based approach to combating piracy, which takes into account incidents at sea as well as the root causes on land.

Achievements paving the way to greater maritime stability

In October2014, there had been no successful attacks since May 2012 in the northern Indian Ocean. This trend can be explained by the work of the naval forces present in the area, greater observance of the Best Management Practices (BMP) and systemized use of public or private armed protection services aboard merchant ships.

In the long term, maritime stability can only be achieved if countries in the Horn of Africa take ownership of these maritime issues. In this regard, since 2009, the EU has been funding the Critical Maritime Routes programme, which aims to support training, promote the exchange of information and boost regional cooperation. In2013, the European Commission also launched the Maritime Security Programme (MASE), to support the strategy to fight piracy and promote maritime security that was adopted by the Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). One priority in this transfer of ownership is the fight against the organizers of piracy, many of whom are the subject of international arrest warrants and continue to move freely in Somalia and the region, and will return to their piracy-related activities if there is a drop in the intensity of naval operations, the application of the Best Management Practices or security aboard ships. Somalia in particular receives considerable support from the international community and INTERPOL in this regard.

France supports the Gulf of Guinea countries in their commitment to securing their maritime area

Today, while piracy seems to be under control in the Horn of Africa, it is weighing more and more heavily on countries in the Gulf of Guinea, where the number of attacks has risen threefold since2010. Piracy in this area initially affected Nigeria, before spreading gradually to Benin in 2011, then Togo in 2012. This expansion of the threat shows how the pirates are able to move their operations in response to crackdowns by security forces.

The approach taken by France and the international community in the Gulf of Guinea consists of committing the countries in the region to improving maritime security. Resolutions 2018 (2011) and 2039 (2012) of the United Nations Security Council call on these countries to develop the tools, capabilities and policies required to eradicate this growing maritime insecurity.

During the Yaoundé Summit of 24-25June2013, the Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) adopted a code of conduct for combating maritime insecurity in the region and created the Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC), a unique body charged with implementing and monitoring the regional strategy against piracy.

France is one of the region’s main supporters in the fight against maritime insecurity. It has been present in the area for more than 20 years, through the Corymbe mission and security and defence cooperation. The ASECMAR project for the period 2011-2015 supports reform of the maritime safety sector in the Gulf of Guinea. In order to ensure that French initiatives are consistent with those led by countries in the region, a French support plan to enhance maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea has been drawn up. Four priority areas of cooperation are identified:

  • institutional, capacity-related and economic cooperation;
  • naval and maritime cooperation;
  • police and judicial cooperation;
  • development cooperation.

France also promotes maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea within international organizations. It participated actively in drawing up the European strategy on the Gulf of Guinea, which was adopted on 17March2014. The EU is becoming more involved in the region, in particular through the capacity-building project CRIMGO (Critical Maritime Routes Gulf of Guinea), launched in2013.

European Union Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions in the Horn of Africa:

Updated on : 14.10.14