UAE a vital ally in piracy war

UAE support has been crucial, says Seychelles ambassador, and will be needed in future.

La Fleche, a UAE-supplied patrol boat, is part of the force protecting vessels from the Seychelles from Somali pirates. Courtesy of Seychelles Coast Guard
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DUBAI // Long-term regional support will be key to the success of a new anti-piracy centre in the Seychelles that aims to track down the kingpins behind the hijackings.

The UAE has already shown its support for the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre that opened in the Seychelles last week.

"We see the UAE as critical in the development of the centre because it has been influential and forthcoming on sharing information that it believes is vital," said Dick Esparon, the Seychelles ambassador. "Piracy is a scourge and we must track not only the people who go out to sea to commit piracy but also the people behind the scenes.

"We must use technology to trace everything that feeds off the proceeds of piracy."

The work of the centre will support the continuing naval pursuit of pirates in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

"Piracy is a transnational crime and we have to act in a unified manner," Mr Esparon said. "Therefore, it's important for the UAE and for the Middle East because each country on its own cannot tackle the problem. A coordinated approach is required to tackle the crime, chase and hunt these financiers and bring them to justice.

The UK-funded anti-piracy centre, which opened on February 25, is one of several measures initiated to protect the Seychelles, a small island nation vulnerable to attacks because it is nearSomalia.

Tourism and fishing have both been hit by piracy but the country is fighting back with aid from the international community and is no longer an easy target.

Over the past few years, the UAE has provided the Seychelles with a coast guard headquarters, radar stations, patrol boats and surveillance aircraft.  There are now about 100 Somali pirates facing jail terms in the Seychelles and helping provide information about piracy gangs.

Since 2010, Somali pirates facing local resistance have increased their range of operations to attacking ships 2,000 kilometres from their coastline.

Shipping vessels and oil tankers leaving the Arabian Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz are now prime targets for pirates since about a fifth of the world's oil exports pass through the strait and the Indian Ocean.

"Piracy has become a major concern for the Arabian Gulf post-2010. Now the UAE has a more critical role to play," said Tim Stear, the director of maritime security at Control Risks, a crisis management company.

"While before it was outside its area as it only affected the Somali coastline and the Gulf of Aden, now any port of the Arabian Gulf is potentially a target."

Experts say collating intelligence is part of the UAE's commitment to counter regional threats.

"One of the fundamental aims is to gather information on pirate gangs and then look at targeting the beneficiaries from the crime," Mr Stear said.  "If the piracy network, financing and the proceeds of the crime are not targeted then piracy will continue."

A combination of naval patrols and armed guards on merchant vessels has helped curtail piracy attacks from 176 in 2011 to 35 until October last year, according to International Maritime Bureau statistics.

The new Seychelles centre aims to seize this advantage and focus on tracking the people who organise and fund piracy, through cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

"The UAE's effort is aimed to bring Somalia back to the family of nations," said Theodore Karasik, research and development director at Inegma security consultancy.

"Collecting intelligence, disseminating findings to mitigate and disrupt the financial flows of piracy - this is the major objective of fighting the scourge. The UAE policy regarding piracy off the cost of Somalia is multifaceted with intelligence sharing and lessons learnt on how to best establish public and private interaction."