Taking Diplomatic Action Against Piracy

Andrew J. Shapiro
Assistant Secretary, Political-Military Affairs
Remarks to the Global Maritime Information Sharing Symposium, National Defense University
Washington, DC
September 16, 2009

As prepared

Thank you, Captain McCarthy, for the introduction and opportunity to speak this morning.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to join you this morning at this important gathering.

Let me take a few minutes to talk about the State Department’s role in leading the diplomatic effort to combat piracy off of the Somali coast.

As Secretary Clinton has said, piracy is a 17th century problem that demands a 21st century solution.

Each year, 33,000 commercial ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, making it one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In 2007, there were 19 pirate attacks on ships. In 2008, the number of attacks grew to 122. In the first nine months of 2009, the number of attempts on commercial vessels has already reached 140.

Piracy is no longer occurring just off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. It has spread to an area of over a million square miles across the Gulf of Aden and the West Indian Ocean, and there have recently been pirate attacks in the Red Sea.

We all understand that piracy is a result of the decades of failed governance in Somalia. Somalia cannot control criminals in its territory, and the international community is limited in our ability to conduct law enforcement in the global commons of the high seas.

The United States Government is dedicating significant effort and resources to help the Somali Transitional Federal Government build its capacity to govern. However, that is a long term effort that will not curb piracy in the near future.

In the meantime, we are taking energetic action to restore security to the maritime industry and humanitarian assistance shipments to eastern Africa.

Last week, 47 nations and international organizations participated in the fourth plenary meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.

The State Department created and convened this forum in January 2009, months before any U.S. ship came under attack.

After the attack on the Maersk Alabama, Secretary Clinton demanded additional actions and we have responded with a vigorous agenda for the Contact Group.

The Contact Group is encouraging international coordination among naval patrols, promoting shipping self-protection measures, arranging for the prosecution of suspected pirates, and building the capacity of countries victimized by piracy to interdict and prosecute these maritime criminals.

At the meeting last week, we encouraged members to adopt straightforward priorities: (1) implement best management practices in commercial fleets to minimize their vulnerability to pirate attacks; (2) discourage ransom payments to pirates; (3) prosecute pirates in national courts when national ships and crews are attacked; and (4) support capacity building programs to help countries in the region better prevent pirate attacks and to prosecute pirates and their enablers.

The biggest challenge we are facing is prosecuting those accused of piracy. Many countries have inadequate or antiquated national laws dealing with this particular crime. Some states with adequate legal frameworks and judicial codes lack the political will to prosecute even when their interests are directly attacked by pirates.

The United States’ decision to prosecute the suspected pirate captured during the Maersk Alabama incident demonstrates our resolve to prosecute when we are victimized by pirates. We continue to urge other affected states to prosecute as well, and the Contact Group has created legal approaches to help them do so.

For instance, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have arranged with Kenya to prosecute and incarcerate piracy suspects seized by our naval forces when affected states are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

Last week, the Contact Group approved the creation of an international trust fund to help defray the expenses of pirate prosecutions in regional or other courts. The fund was specifically created in such a way that the commercial shipping industry can contribute to prosecution; it will allow donors to specify how their contributions are to be used.

In an unprecedented move, the United Nations, which will administer the fund, agreed to limit its overhead expenses to eight percent of fund contributions. This means that ninety-two cents of every donated dollar will directly support prosecution or related initiatives.

Funding is important, but so is the availability of witnesses who can provide statements for debriefing and/or testimony at trials. Allowing competent authorities access to vessels, manifests, and other records may be vital to the successful prosecution of pirate suspects. It is important that commercial shipping companies whose ships and crews have been attacked by pirates support the prosecution of their attackers.

We continue to press affected states to help prosecute those who attack their ships, take their sailors as hostages, or seize their cargo and again, your voices are important in making the case to these governments.

We are also searching for ways to disrupt the flow of money between pirates and their financial enablers. Pirates’ financial flows operate outside formal institutions, through cash transactions in a complicated network built on personal relationships.

We know that the young pirates who undertake these attacks receive only a small percentage of the millions of dollars in ransom being paid. We need to better understand the financing of pirate activities and the flow of monies paid, and to develop strategies to discourage this enterprise. We are working with other agency and international partners to find ways to disrupt the investment and distribution network of pirates.

And we are also working with naval forces in what has arguably become the most nationally diverse maritime operation in history. The European Union fielded the first naval operation in its history to protect World Food Program shipments to eastern Africa. NATO established OPERATION OCEAN SHIELD, to which the UK, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the United States have contributed frigates to counter-piracy operations.

China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Russia and Singapore have deployed naval task forces to escort national shipping and have joined in the international effort to combat piracy. This international armada is unprecedented, and we hope our counter-piracy cooperation at sea will form the basis for international efforts to combat other transnational maritime threats like smuggling and trafficking in arms, drugs, and human beings.

Given the vast area across which pirates are operating, naval forces – no matter how large or robust – will never be in a position to rapidly respond to and thwart all pirate attacks. Effective defensive counter-measures by merchant vessels will remain pivotal to preventing their capture by pirates.

We appreciate that the use of armed security on merchant ships is a complex and controversial matter. Every sovereign nation has the right to determine whether they will allow armed vessels or security teams within their territory, and should they do so, what the fees for related arrangements would be.

As we assess this and other possible security measures, we recognize that industry has an important role to play in this debate, and we welcome your input as to the most effective ways to enhance the security of your commercial vessels. Ultimately, the goal of the United States Government is to support the long-term interests of our shipping industry in ways that are commensurate with both security and commercial competition.

Apart from the question of armed security, we want to see commercial security measures fully implemented according to the International Maritime Organization’s International Ship and Port Security Code architecture. As you well know, best management practices must be implemented in order to be effective.

We are encouraging flag states to push for the implementation of piracy counter-measures in their commercial fleets, and we welcome public commitments to this effort. Indeed, just last week, Cyprus, Japan, Singapore South Korea and the United Kingdom joined the United States in signing the New York Declaration, a non-binding political statement committing ship registry states to promulgate internationally-recognized best management practices to prevent pirate attacks.

The New York Declaration was first proposed and signed by the four largest ship registry countries – Panama, Liberia, Bahamas, and Marshall Islands – at the Contact Group meeting on May 29. Last week’s new commitments continue our momentum in this area, and we will continue to urge more countries to sign in support of this important effort by and on behalf of commercial shipping self-protection.

If all commercial fleets worldwide were to adopt such self-protection measures, we would stand a much better chance of significantly reducing the success rate of pirate attacks.

As the U.S. Government encourages other governments to prevail on their shipping industries to adopt these measures, I ask that you prevail on your foreign industry counterparts to do the same. If you can demonstrate that adopting self-protection measures is benefiting your business, then that would be a powerful example and incentive for your peers around the world to do the same. We are, I hope, on the right track in this regard.

Combating piracy must be a collaborative effort that leverages not only our military strength and diplomatic engagement, but also the experience of the shipping industry that is directly impacted by this criminal activity.

Sharing information through industry-government conferences such as this is a positive start toward the goal of a more effective public-private partnership in countering piracy. I regret that my schedule does not allow me to sit in on some of the other presentations, particularly from the private sector, to fully honor the two-way exchange of information, but I trust that you will have a fruitful dialogue throughout the day.

Thank you for your time and attention this morning.