The US and European Union officials on Friday praised India for its role in the global fight against piracy, saying there has been a remarkable drop in piracy off the notorious Somalia coast thanks largely to Indian vigilance.
Donna Hopkins, coordinator for counter-piracy and maritime security in the US State Department, told the international media in Washington that India is a ”very important member” of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia established in January 2009.
Not only did India chair the plenary session of the body, but it has more pirates in its custody than any other country, Hopkins pointed out. The US has now handed over the chairmanship of the contact group to the European Union.
Since its inception, the Contact Group has grown to an open and vital architecture of 80 nations and organisations, including the entire spectrum of stakeholders, she said in a briefing on counter piracy with François Rivasseau, deputy head of the European Union delegation to the US meet.
Significantly, Hopkins said there have been no pirate hijackings off the coast of Somalia since May 2012.
“This is the lowest rate of attempted hijackings in over six years, and certainly since the peak of the crisis in 2011. No ships are currently held hostage by Somali pirates, although there remain at least 49 hostages whom the international community are working to free,” she said.
Over 1,400 pirates and suspected pirates are in courts or in prisons in 21 countries, with the largest number held in India. “However, there is still much work to be done,” Hopkins said. “The fundamental conditions along the Somali coast have not changed, and if we drop our guard, piracy will return.”
There are three organised multilateral counter-piracy missions: the EU’s NAVFOR Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, and Combined Maritime Forces Combined Task Force 151.
Then there are a number of independent deployers, including China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, she said.
The operational commanders of all of these counter-piracy forces meet quarterly in Bahrain on a voluntary and nonpolitical basis to discuss their respective plans and ”de-conflict” their operations.
“This is a remarkable success. It works very well,” Hopkins said. “So piracy is a great uniter because it’s a common enemy. Everybody hates pirates.”
Hopkins said there are 22 to 30 military ships of different nationalities at any given time from “The whole world – And China and Russia and India,” again stressing the role of the three maritime countries on the Indian Ocean.
Maritime Security News Note:
The time of this praise is rather curious. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have certainly done sterling work in keeping Indian waters safe, but could this be the beginnings of a diplomatic olive branch? The EU, UN and NATO have all been dragged into the diplomatic spat between India and Italy over the trial of the Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen. The Enrica Lexie case has yet to come to trial and, at the same time, there are 35 crew and security guards from the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, operated by US maritime security firm, AdvanFort, languishing in an Indian prison.
Neither of these situations is good for anti-piracy or foreign relations. Perhaps the ice is thawing, allowing India some room for rapprochement?