The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia was created on January 14, 2009 pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1851. This voluntary ad hoc international forum brings together over 80 countries, organizations, and industry groups with a shared interest in combating piracy. Chaired in 2013 by the United States, the Contact Group coordinates political, military, and non-governmental efforts to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia, ensure that pirates are brought to justice, and support regional states to develop sustainable maritime security capabilities. The European Union will assume the chairmanship in 2014.
Through its five thematic working groups, the Contact Group draws on a wide range of international expertise and adopts a problem-solving approach to piracy, working closely with Somali officials from the central government and regional administrations and officials in Indian Ocean States. Working Group 1, chaired by the United Kingdom, focuses on operational naval coordination, information sharing, and capacity building; Working Group 2, chaired by Denmark, addresses legal and judicial issues; Working Group 3, chaired by the Republic of Korea, works closely with the shipping industry to enhance awareness and build capabilities among seafarers transiting the region; Working Group 4, chaired by Egypt, aims at raising public awareness of the dangers of piracy; and Working Group 5, chaired by Italy, focuses on disrupting the pirate criminal enterprise ashore, including the illicit financial flows associated with maritime piracy.
This unique international partnership is contributing to a significant decline in piracy off the Horn of Africa. Thanks in part to the Contact Group’s concerted efforts, there has not been a successful pirate attack on a commercial vessel off the Horn of Africa in more than a year and a half, and pirates no longer control a single hijacked vessel.
• On November 18, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2125, renewing the call for international action to fight piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
• The Contact Group convened November 10-15 for Counter Piracy Week in Djibouti. This first ever extended duration gathering of the CGPCS included meetings of all five working groups, a number of stand-alone thematic discussions, and the 15th Plenary. In all, the event drew 55 delegations totaling approximately 220 participants. Notably, the first ever plenary session in the Horn of Africa included active participation by the Federal Government of Somalia and a number of regional partners in the fight against piracy. Participants agreed that, while significant progress has been made in the last two years, the underlying conditions that allowed piracy to flourish remain. Somalia will continue require significant capacity building assistance to ensure pirate gangs cannot return to peak. The 15th Plenary also marked the handover of the Contact Group chairmanship from the United States to the European Union, which will chair during 2014.
• On October 11, India detained the Sierra Leone-flagged S/V SEAMAN GUARD OHIO and later charged 33 men aboard for failing to produce papers authorizing the carriage of weapons in Indian waters. A U.S. maritime company, Advanfort, operates the ship with a crew that includes British, Estonian, Indian and Ukrainian nationals.
• On November 13, Japan’s parliament enacted a bill to allow security guards to carry rifles aboard Japanese-registered vessels to counter piracy in waters off Somalia and elsewhere. The new law allows armed guards employed by foreign security contractors to fire warning shots at approaching pirates.
• On December 3, France announced it would change its laws to allow private armed guards to protect its shipping fleet against pirates. News reports indicated that although tougher ship security and Western naval patrols have reduced attacks from Somali pirates, French ships are increasingly being targeted in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa, where France has trade ties with former colonies.
Apprehensions at Sea
• On October 18, the Combined Task Force (CTF)-151 reported the capture of nine suspected pirates believed responsible for two attacks in the Indian Ocean. The RFA FORT VICTORIA, HMAS MELBOURNE and ROKS WANG GEON from CTF-151 were involved, as well as the European Union flagship HMLMS JOHAN DE WITT and a Seychelles based maritime patrol aircraft. Pirates exchanged gunfire with security personnel aboard a super tanker on October 11 before attacking a Spanish fishing vessel three days later. CTF-151 apprehended the suspects and destroyed two skiffs and associated pirate equipment.
• On November 10, the Danish warship HDMS ESBERN SNARE, part of NATO’s OPERATION OCEAN SHIELD, arrested nine suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean. The warship tracked down a pirate skiff and mother ship (a whaler) overnight after the suspects attacked the MV TORM Kansas, a Danish flagged oil tanker on November 9. A skiff of five armed pirates had approached the tanker, exchanging fire with private security guards on board before breaking off. On November 30, Seychelles agreed to try the suspects, which were then handed over.
Piracy Trials and Prosecution Support
• On November 26, seven Somalis convicted of piracy in Kenya were repatriated to Somalia by the UNODC upon the completion of their sentence. They were flown to Galkayo.
• Also in Kenya, judgment in the piracy case concerning an attack on the vessel ARIA has been delayed until 23 December 2013.
• Forty Somalis held in Maldives have been repatriated to Somalia by UNODC. They were detained on suspicion of engaging in piracy, but were not charged as Maldives has no legislation on the subject. They were held as prohibited immigrants prior to their return to Somalia. UNODC is engaging with Maldives to develop its piracy legislation.
• On November 14, a U.S. District Court Judge passed life sentences on the last two Somali pirates convicted of killing four Americans on a yacht off the Horn of Africa in 2011. The third convicted pirate was sentenced on November 12. All three were given 21 life sentences. Eleven others previously pled guilty and are serving life sentences.
• On November 5, there was a procedural delay in the Mauritius trial of nine suspected Somali pirates. One of the accused demanded the presence of the French officer who arrested him. The court advised the defendant to enter a motion to that effect.
• On October 30, a court in Madrid convicted six Somalis for piracy and sentenced them to between eight and 12 and a half years in jail for attacking a Spanish warship in 2012 off the coast of Somalia. The six were caught following a firefight when they tried to board the SPS PATINO, a Spanish navy supply ship supporting the European Union’s OPERATION ATALANTA.
• On October 23, four Somali pirates were sentenced to seven years each in prison on by a Kenyan court that found them guilty of hijacking a fishing dhow in the Indian Ocean in 2010. The men were arrested by Spanish naval forces and handed over to Kenyan authorities.
• On October 18, a French court sentenced three Somali pirates to nine years in prison each for the 2009 hijacking off the Somali coast of a French yacht that led to the death of its skipper. The three pirates had asked for leniency, saying they were forced into piracy by lives of abject poverty. French troops stormed a sailboat in April 2009 and captured the trio during a bid to free the captain, his wife, their three-year-old son and two crew members.
• On November 26, a federal jury in the U.S. State of Virginia acquitted Ali Mohammed Ali of piracy charges in connection with the takeover of a Danish merchant ship, the CEC FUTURE, in the Gulf of Aden in 2008. Ali worked as a translator for both ship owners and pirates as they negotiated terms for release of the ship and crew. The jury deadlocked on two hostage-taking charges against Ali. U.S prosecutors said that they will retry Ali on those two allegations.
• On November 29 in Seychelles, the conviction for piracy of a Somali man was overturned on appeal. The man, who was originally sentenced in December 2010, claimed to be 16 years old at the time of the offences. He is being held in custody due to his immigration status and will be repatriated to Somalia by UNODC at the earliest opportunity.
• On October 15-16, the United Nations’ Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute hosted the second of a series of workshops for legal experts in Rome on to draft a code of conduct on Rules for the Use of Force by Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel on board merchant ships.
• On November 8 and 9, UNODC conducted a tour for CGPCS Trust Fund donors in Puntland and Somaliland. Representatives from Denmark, DPA, the EU, Germany, UNODC HQ, Norway, the UK and the US were able to visit the projects in Garowe, Berbera and Hargeisa that they have supported through the Trust Fund.
• On the night of 8 November 2013, Al-Shabaab fighters launched a deadly attack on Bosasso Prison in Puntland, which was substantially rebuilt in previous years by UNODC using money from the CGPCS Trust Fund. The Deputy Commander of the prison and one guard were killed. Prison defense forces fought off the attack and no prisoners escaped.
• The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs told Counter-Piracy Week in Djibouti participants that the Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States Countering Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (Trust Fund) will fund the Hostage Support Programme, administered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, for an additional 18 months.
• The Trust Fund Board of Directors also approved a project submitted by INTERPOL and the International Maritime Bureau which will support debriefing of former hostages held by Somali pirates in support of law enforcement investigations.
• RAPPICC, the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Coordination Centre, changed its name to REFLECS3, the Regional Fusion Law Enforcement Centre for Safety and Security at Sea, to better describe its new three-part mission – combating transnational organized crime; improving maritime shipping information sharing; and coordinating local and regional capacity building programs. Additionally, the Seychelles government agreed to enact legislation to incorporate the Centre as a legal entity. The Steering Group also decided to invite countries from the East African and South Asian regions to join as new members.
• On November 22, the EU/UNODC launched its Programme to Support Maritime Security, known as MASE. The 5 million Euro (approx. 6.8 million USD) MASE programme will address maritime crime in the Indian Ocean including piracy, drugs and arms smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing and maritime pollution.
Hostages in Custody
• At least 49 seafarers remain in pirate custody, including:
— 27 (Taiwanese, Chinese, Cambodian, Filipino, Vietnamese and Indonesian) from the F/V NAHAM 3, Omani-flagged, hijacked March 26, 2012, now aground in Somalia;
— 11 (7 Bangladeshi, 2 Sri Lankan, 1 Indian, 1 Iranian) from the M/V ALBEDO, Malaysian-flagged, hijacked November 26, 2010, which sank at anchor on July 8, 2013, with a further 4 (Sri Lankans) missing;
— 4 (Thais) from the M/V PRANTALAY 12, Thailand-flagged, held since April 18, 2010; which was grounded after the anchor chain broke July, 20, 2011; and
— 7 (Indians) held since September 29, 2010 from M/V ASHPALT VENTURE, Panama-flagged; the ship and other crew were released April 15, 2011.