The threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia looms large despite significant gains made against it, says a UN official.
Andrew McLaughlin, the Program Officer in charge of Global Maritime Security at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told Xinhua in Kenyan capital Nairobi that a fragile political, economic and security situation in Somalia could provide a fertile ground for piracy to thrive.
“Piracy in Somalia has not been defeated but only countered. The threat can recur since the security and economic situation in Somalia remains dire,” McLaughlin said in an interview with Xinhua.
He regretted that Somalia’s limited military capability and high youth unemployment could undermine efforts to eradicate piracy.
“Push factors like high youth unemployment should be addressed to boost anti-piracy operation in Somalia. Strengthening the rule of law is crucial to eliminate this menace,” McLaughlin said.
He said that the creation of strong political institutions would act as a bulwark against piracy and other transnational crimes that have thrived along the Somali coast.
The UN office on Drugs and Crime has also been actively involved in counter-piracy operations in Somalia waters together with international naval forces and major shipping lines.
McLaughlin revealed that UNODC played a role in the Oct. 22 rescue of 26 Asian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates since March 2012.
“We coordinated with Oceans Beyond Piracy and provided security to facilitate the rescue of sailors. We also assisted in chartering an aircraft that airlifted sailors to safety in Nairobi,” said McLaughlin.
He added that kidnappings for ransom in Somalia has experienced a slump but warned that complacency might lead to recurrence of the criminal enterprise.
Multilateral agencies have supported counter-piracy operations in Somalia waters in conjunction with global naval forces and investors in the shipping industry.
McLaughlin disclosed that UNODC has supported capacity building to Somalia law enforcement agencies to deter piracy in the high seas.
“Our focus is enhanced capacity for Somalia coast guard and maritime police to ensure the sea route is safe,” said McLaughlin, adding that enhanced patrols at the high seas have led to drastic reduction in piracy.
McLaughlin said that law enforcement was key to dismantling criminal networks involved in piracy in Somalia waters.
He said economic incentives like the rebuilding of fishing industry in Somalia would dissuade jobless youth from becoming pirates.
Somalia’s coastline has not recorded any major attack on a cargo ship since 2012 thanks to anti-piracy operations of naval patrol vessels since around 2008.
McLaughlin also said that better intelligence gathering could help enable law enforcement agencies arrest and prosecute piracy kingpins.
He warned that the withdrawal of international naval patrol vessels from Somalia waters might create a security vacuum that could be exploited by pirates to launch new attacks on cargo ships.