Shipping was largely sidelined at the Somalia conference in London last week, with heads of state and foreign ministers from around 50 countries largely concentrating on the political issues facing the country rather than the piracy crisis.
Leading figures such as British prime minister David Cameron, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon nevertheless made clear their opposition to such criminality, and promised a number of concrete measures they believe will tackle its root causes.
They also promised to establish a taskforce to discuss the payment of ransoms to secure the release of seafarers and ships, with the implication that the practice is undesirable and should be eliminated.
Anti-piracy campaign group SOS SaveOurSeafarers was quick to express its reservations on this and other points.
“We’re disappointed that the conference’s phrase ‘hostages in Somalia’ failed to acknowledge the world’s seafarers and the difficulty they go through in order to keep world trade moving through this area,” it said in a statement.
“We’re also concerned by some of the comments Hillary Clinton and David Cameron made about creating an international task force to discourage the payment of ransoms to pirates and other groups to eliminate the profit motive.
“This is deeply alarming as it may hinder the payment of ransoms for ships and seafarers, which is currently the only way shipowners can ensure the ultimate safety of hijacked seafarers.”
But a more positive response was forthcoming from International Maritime Organization secretary-general Koji Sekimizu, who went out of his way to praise the wide range of issues covered, including security, local stability, counter-terrorism, humanitarian aspects, the political process and international co-operation.
“Mention of the word Somalia in a maritime context leads almost exclusively to thoughts of piracy,” Mr Sekimizu said.“But, as this conference so clearly highlights, piracy is just one manifestation of the widespread and deep-rooted problems that beset that country and its people.”
A comprehensive and detailed communiqué adopted by the conference called for, among other things, full implementation of the IMO-led Djibouti Code of Conduct and the adoption of an Exclusive Economic Zone.
It also welcomed current work on international guidance on the use of private armed security companies.
“On the issue of piracy, the conference agreed that piracy cannot be solved by military means alone and reiterated the importance of supporting local communities to tackle the underlying causes of piracy and improving effective use of Somali coastal waters through regional maritime capacity-building measures,” Mr Sekimizu said.
“I will redouble my efforts to ensure that IMO will provide further support to signatory states of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, including Somalia, within the Djibouti Code of Conduct trust fund and accelerate the process of implementation by the IMO.”
The IMO is organising a counter-piracy capacity building conference at its London headquarters on May 15, and is promising “tangible outcomes on the way forward”.