While some industry players have praised the European Union decision to allow EU Navfor to fight piracy on Somali soil as a “step in the right direction”, others say they need to see more detail before they can support the move.
The EU confirmed today that it had extended the area of operations to include Somali coastal land and internal waters. At the same time, it said that Operation Atalanta would continue off the Somali coast until December 2014.
Although shipping sources have welcomed the extension of the Operation Atalanta mandate, many feel it is not clear what the extension to Somali coastal territory will involve.
BIMCO chief maritime security officer Giles Noakes said the statement from the EU was too vague and this made it difficult for anyone to make a definite comment.
“All it suggests is that forces will operate beyond the waters and into coastal territory. That is not to say this is not good news,” he said.
“If it means that they will focus on targeting pirates’ logistical operations then this is a step in the right direction. After all, historically, pirates have only ever been defeated when their operations have been targeted onshore.”
However, others have questioned where EU Navfor will focus its efforts. There is a concern that rather than concentrate on pirate bases on shore, time will be taken dismantling captured motherships. If this is the case, it could have huge ramifications for salvage operations that would be extremely difficult to conduct on the Somali coast. Another question raised is what kind of retribution the industry can expect from the pirates. Some fear that a move like this, if not immediately successful, could make the problem of Somali piracy worse.
Gary Li, head of marine and aviation at London intelligence company Exclusive Analysis, said expanding operations could be a good move but was not a long-term solution. He added that the rules of engagement needed to be very clear.
“It is understood there will be no ground forces on shore but there is still the question of how will they validate that a target was a pirate and not a fisherman,” he said.
“When a group of Somalis claims that a target was civilian, they may find it difficult to refute. It could be a case of their word against EU Navfor’s.”
However, Mr Li said that EU Navfor had good intelligence and knew when pirates were preparing to go to sea.
“That has never been a problem for them,” he said. “The problem EU Navfor has had is how to stop them at sea. All they need is one mothership to get through and it can cause significant trouble. Recently a mothership got as far as the Maldives and attempted to hijack four vessels. This gave insurers the jitters as it shows what can happen when just one gets into open waters.”