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Islamabad

November 19, 2015

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Exclusion of EEZ from high risk piracy

Piracy at sea with all its lore and literature is not new and is believed to have existed in turbulent periods as early as 14th century BC when sea people, as they were then called, threatened Aegean and Mediterranean voyages. It is said that the great Roman emperor Julius Caesar was also captured by Cilician pirates and released only after payment of huge ransom amounting to fifty ‘talents of gold’ – one talent roughly equated with weight of one person.
Pakistan got embroiled in this menace as a huge large chunk of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which has recently been extended from 200 nautical miles to 360 nautical miles, was affected by piracy off the coast of Somalia. Pakistan began to contribute its naval forces towards a multinational coalition task force which took up the role to fight piracy and was named as Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151). It comprised of about 25 naval vessels from Nato, USA, Pakistan, Singapore and Japan, patrolled approximately 8.3 million square kilometres of ocean which is roughly the size of Western Europe.
This effort was supplemented by ship owners with adoption of best management practices, armed guards and security onboard and development of onshore security forces. But the scale of problem was so huge and environments so asymmetric, that often a mere 250 dollars pirate skiff would seem to have an advantage over a 250 million dollars state of the art naval vessel.
This became obvious from the statistics where 26 ships had been captured in each of the years 2009 and 2010, with unsuccessful attempts on 68 vessels in 2008 and on 52 vessels in 2010. According to another report, there were 127 attacks on ships in 2010 and 151 attacks in 2011. Out of these 47 attacks were successful in 2010 and 25 in 2011. The activity peaked in February 2012 when pirates held 10 vessels and 159 hostages.
Now, after years of concerted efforts by Pakistan Navy, during which no incident of piracy has occurred in our

waters, and in collaboration with Ministry of Foreign Affairs, almost the entire EEZ has been excluded from High Risk Area (HRA) of piracy. Pakistan had strongly opposed inclusion of its EEZ in the HRA at the time of its declaration but didn’t succeed in its purpose.
Of late, Pakistan’s demand for exclusion of its EEZ from the HRA was consistently supported by some regional states which helped considerably. The decision was announced by Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) which revised its limits of the HRA declared by shipping industry and its provisions will be effective from December 2015. The new development will benefit seaborne trade as shipping destined for Pakistani ports will be exempted from extra insurance and security charges levied since 2010. It will also help fishing and deep sea research exploration activities.
A closer look at the piracy phenomenon off the coast of Somalia, however, will help better understanding of Pakistan’s achievement of exclusion of its EEZ from the HRA. To begin with, resurgence of piracy after nearly a hundred years of its near non-existence is a perfect example where, in a world shaped by concept of nation states, if the existing equilibrium gets disturbed by internal or external forces for whatever reasons, it can unleash highly unpredictable dynamics of its own.
So, when Somalia collapsed as a functional nation state and its tiny navy disappeared, its vast ocean area and rich fishing resources off its coast were exposed to vagaries of predatory forces from afar. If this was not bad enough, developed western countries resorted to dumping industrial waste off the coast of Somalia since it would cost a few dollars per barrel as opposed to hundreds of dollars in waste disposal in accordance with stringent environmental regulations in their own countries. The toxic waste destroyed rich fishing fields which made survival of fishermen even more difficult and exacerbated an already dangerous situation.
Threatened with their livelihood, local fishing community bounced back into what initially appeared to protect their rights by forming armed groups to stop shipping involved in toxic dumping. This soon blew up into a major threat which up till then had only been restricted to narrow Straits of Malacca. Even the names adopted by some of the pirate networks, such as ‘National Volunteer Coast Guard’ reflected their initial primary motive but opportunities to seize unarmed vessels for ransom as an alternate and more rewarding source of income were never too far to see.
By 2005, piracy off the coast of Somalia had extended into open oceans comprising of five zones from the coast, with outermost zone threateningly close to Pakistan’s EEZ. Millions of tons of global trade which exited from Straits of Hormuz and Gulf of Aden every day, crisscrossed these zones. Compelling and overlapping financial and security imperatives eventually forced major nations to mount a huge anti-piracy operation. In an ironical turn of events, the West, which had a role in resurgence of this scourge in the first place due to its unscrupulous trade practices, got at the receiving end.
The shipping world was gravely threatened by a veritable industry of profiteers around piracy. Insurance companies raised their profits from pirate attacks as firms hiked rates of premium in response. The problem got more complicated as reports surfaced about complicity of certain transitional government officials from the Galmudug administration in north-central Hobyo district with pirates to use them as a bulwark against insurgents from the southern conflict zone.
Shipping deliveries were impeded and increased shipping costs spiralled to about 7 billion dollars per year since 2011. In the same year, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Somali pirates were operating and are believed to have earned an estimated $146 million or $4.87 million per ship. This meteoric rise was eventually checked when nearly 1,000 of them were captured as a result of stepped-up anti-piracy operations and are undergoing trials in 21 different countries.
From Somalian perspective - subsequent to disintegration of its armed forces and total absence of an effective coast guard, their homeland’s sea front was totally vulnerable and routinely exploited by extra-regional interest groups. It was therefore not surprising that approximately 70 per cent of its costal population at the time strongly supported piracy as a form of national defence of their territorial waters which not only protected their fishing grounds but also exacted justice and compensation for the stolen and destroyed marine resources.
The CGPCS has played a significant role in putting down piracy activities and its unique and inclusive construct merits some attention. It represents a new international governance model for a truly comprehensive approach to complex problems. The group works with the UN but is not of the UN. There is no formal structure, no rigid protocol, no standing infrastructure and no institutional overheads.
For now piracy phenomenon off Somalia has suffered a severe blow but the region is far from stable and continued vigil would be in order. Pakistan would do well to try and carve out a greater role for itself in the working of the CGPCS especially since its geographical location is closer to the region from where piracy threat can re-emerge in the future.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Pakistan Navy.
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