NEW YORK // The UAE Government has joined 23 other nations to fight piracy off Somalia's coast, where dozens of ships were plundered last year. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation led by undersecretary Saif Sultan Mubarak al Aryani attended the first meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, in New York last week.
The UAE envoy joined delegates from Britain, the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Somalia in the new organisation. The UAE ambassador to the UN, Ahmed al Jarman, estimated that about half of the ships falling victim to pirates are from the UAE, as small trading dhows present an easy target. "The Government of the UAE is committed to working together with neighbour countries and our international partners to tackle the danger of piracy that has emerged in this region," Mr al Jarman said.
Armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, pirates attack ships in the Gulf of Aden as they travel the route of Egypt's Suez Canal, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes that carries a tenth of global trade aboard 20,000 vessels each year. Their raids have sent insurance costs soaring and forced shipping lines to make expensive detours around the Cape of Good Hope for fear of losing their vessels.
Among the most high-profile raids was the Dubai-owned Sirius Star, loaded with Saudi Arabian crude oil worth US$100 million (Dh367m), which pirates hijacked on Nov 15 and released on Jan 9 after a $3m ransom was paid. Merchant seamen moored on Dubai Creek have become so fearful of pirates that security firms have begun hiring out heavily armed guards to accompany them. But the US assistant secretary of state Mark Kimmitt said the likelihood of being attacked by the pirates was less than one per cent, and less than half of the vessels attacked last year were eventually boarded and taken hostage.
"But that's still not good enough," Mr Kimmitt said after the closed summit at UN headquarters on Wednesday. At the meeting, teams were set up to organise better information support for operations launched against piracy, and to draw up stronger laws to arrest, prosecute and detain pirates and track financial flows from the crime. Members will review progress at the next meeting in March. "We believe that 2009 will be a year where we can turn this problem around if we come together as a group of nations working not simply the military aspect, but the judicial aspect, the financial aspect, the industry aspect," Mr Kimmitt said.
The contact group consisted of 24 nations and five multilateral organisations: Nato, the European Union, the African Union, the UN Secretariat and the International Maritime Organisation. Many analysts argue that defeating piracy off Somalia's coast would involve dealing with the many problems of one of Africa's most troubled nations. In the absence of a functioning government since the 1991 fall of the dictator Siad Barre, Somalia has become a haven for pirates, whose multimillion-dollar ransoms - which totalled $30 million last year - represent the only booming industry in an impoverished land.
Its UN-backed transitional federal government, which is battling an insurgency and controls only a few neighbourhoods of the capital, Mogadishu, has approved foreign action against pirates. "Piracy is a symptom of a wider lack of security and rule of law in Somalia, and continues to constitute a threat to regional stability," the contact group said in a statement. Security Council members unanimously passed a US-sponsored resolution on Friday calling for a peacekeeping mission in Somalia by June 1. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, previously rejected the proposal, saying there weren't enough troops available to deploy in the country.