UAE to assess role in anti-piracy task force

Commanders weigh size of contribution in the deployment of a pan-Arab task force to tackle piracy in the waters off Somalia.

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NEW YORK // Emirati naval chiefs are assessing their role in the deployment of a pan-Arab task force to tackle piracy off Somalia, the commander of the European Union's force said. UAE navy leaders have been discussing a deployment or other support for more than a year, but negotiations are heading towards "full operating capability", said Rear Adml Peter Hudson, commander of the EU naval force.

"The UAE ? is committed to forming a pan-Arab task force. We wait to see how that will translate itself from the concept stage to the actual full operating capability," he said on the sidelines of an anti-piracy meet at UN headquarters in Manhattan. "That's now being led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The UAE, in her efforts, will channel it through the Pan-Arab Task Force." Adml Hudson said the force includes the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and others, with members evaluating "how they can contribute to the counter-piracy efforts as a collective".

"Whether that means vessels, detachments, support, prosecutions - I'll leave that to the team who are working in Riyadh to develop," he said. "But it is a regional initiative to do something on the piracy issue." Because Somalia does not have a functioning government, pirates can operate with near impunity from its shores, raiding 217 ships last year and extorting some US$60 million (Dh220m) in ransom.

The 35 attempted raids from January through March this year represented a drop of 27 from the same period last year, according to figures from the International Maritime Bureau, a decline attributed to increased naval patrols. The EU force is part of a loose coalition in the Gulf of Aden and Somali basin that includes the US-led Combined Maritime Forces, a Nato contingent and forces from Russia, China, India, Iran and others.

The various forces co-ordinate with each other at monthly meetings in Bahrain but lack a unified command structure that some European admirals have said impairs the force's effectiveness. Adml Hudson described improvements in information-sharing over the past nine months that now help some 100 countries and agencies rapidly share tactical data and intelligence reports. "The EU has set up a method of allowing that to happen with secure chat rooms which are fitted to the majority of the ships," he said. "We can exchange information quickly and freely on events that occur in the region."

UAE-flagged ships have been among the many victims of Somali piracy, which plagues regional sea lanes connecting Europe with Asia, waters which attract some 30,000 vessels each year. The hijacking of several dhows from Dubai led to an embargo against trading with southern Somalia last month, a move designed to pressure Somali traders to help keep pirates in check.