London Hosts Somalia Conference

Piracy in Somalia will be among the main topics discussed at a major international conference on Somalia in London’s historic Lancaster House tomorrow, although the shipping industry will make itself heard only indirectly at best.

Among those attending will be heads of state and foreign ministers from more than 50 countries, including United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

The discussions will focus on practical measures to tackle questions including security, political progress towards effective government, stability and humanitarian issues.

Repeated hijackings of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are thought to have cost the global economy anything up to $7bn last year, according to a recent report from a US-based think tank. Shipping had to foot up to 80% of the bill.

However, it is understood that no shipowners or shipping trade associations have been invited to the event, which was announced last year by British prime minister David Cameron. Lloyd’s List has been able to secure media credentials.

A collective shipping viewpoint will be tabled in the form of conclusions from a separate shipping-specific conference held at the International Maritime Organization earlier this week, under the auspices not of the IMO but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Giles Heimann, chair of the SOS SaveOurSeafarers anti-piracy campaign that brings together some 30 shipping interest groups, said that Tuesday’s meeting had acknowledged the importance of the continuing partnership between the shipping industry, naval forces and governments in the fight against Somali piracy.

“The conference also highlighted the successful co-ordinated naval operations in the region, which, combined with industry self-protection measures, have helped reduce the number of successful pirate hijackings despite continued increasingly violent pirate attacks,” he said.

“The conference’s recognition of the economic and human cost of piracy and the suffering of seafarers echoes our campaign’s objectives as we try to raise awareness of the consequences of Somali piracy, and attempt to stir up more political will.

“We also welcome the conference’s acknowledgement of the underlying causes of Somali piracy, and of the need to stabilise and strengthen internal governance within the country, and to strengthen judicial prosecution capacity in the region in order to bring pirates to justice.”

On top of piracy, the agenda at today’s conference is likely to include a range of other issues facing the troubled country, which has had no stable central government for two decades. These include widespread famine, drought, internal conflict between clans, a massive drugs industry, Islamist insurgency and suspected terrorist training camps on its territory.

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