Global Policy Forum

UN Sanctions Action Against Pirates


By Miano Kihu

July 1, 2008

A move by the UN to allow certain countries to use "all necessary means" to repress piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia is a welcome relief to the shipping industry.

The United Nations Security Council last month allowed any State co-operating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government the right to enter the country's territorial waters and use all means necessary to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with relevant provisions of international law. But the resolution will apply for a period of six months and it will be followed up with a letter of consent from Somalia to the President of the UN Security Council on the decision.

International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos said he is happy with the drastic resolution of the UN Security Council. The resolution is a culmination of efforts by IMO for the last two years to draw the UN organ's attention to the matter.

Stiflling aid flow

Mitropoulos, the IMO chief, said that firm action was needed, since the current situation was stifling the flow of much-needed aid to the people of Somalia, jeopardising the lives of innocent seafarers, fishers and passengers, and adversely affecting international trade.

He said: "I am very pleased with the outcome, which I consider a step in the right direction, and wants to thank all governments who worked hard on the draft and all those who supported the resolution in its final form, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General for his personal contribution to the end result." He added, "IMO has been asking, since June 2007, that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia consent to naval ships entering the country's territorial waters to protect ships under attack by pirates and armed robbers. This has now been done, through the Security Council resolution. We should work together to ensure that acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing off the coast of Somalia are prevented and suppressed to the benefit of the Somali people, first and foremost, the seafarers and passengers on ships sailing in the region, the shipping industry and international sea borne trade."

Somalia had to consent to the resolution largely due to its lack of the capacity to eradicate the pirates or patrol and secure its territorial waters. The region has witnessed a surge of attacks on ships, including hijacking of vessels operated by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other commercial vessels, thereby jeopardizing delivery of food aid and other humanitarian assistance to the war torn country besides endangering the vessels, crews, passengers and cargo.

The resolution will apply only to the situation in Somalia and shall not affect the rights and obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, nor be considered as establishing customary international law. The co-operating States are advised to ensure that anti-piracy actions they undertake do not deny or impair the right of innocent passengers to the ships of any third State.

While urging States, whose naval vessels and military aircraft operate on the high seas and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia to be vigilant, the Security Council encouraged States interested in the use of commercial routes off the coast of Somalia to increase and co-ordinate their efforts to deter attacks upon and hijacking of vessels, in co-operation with the country's Government. All States were urged to co-operate with each other, with IMO and, as appropriate, with regional organisations, and to render assistance to vessels threatened by or under attack by pirates.

Adopt resolution

In 2005, the growing number of reported attacks on ships off the coast of Somalia prompted the IMO Assembly to adopt a resolution, which first brought the matter to the attention of the UN Security Council. This action resulted in a UN Security Council Presidential Statement, issued on 15 March 2006, encouraging UN Member States with naval vessels and military aircraft operating in international waters and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia to be vigilant for piracy incidents.

Such States were urged to take appropriate action to protect merchant shipping - in particular, ships being used to transport humanitarian aid - against any such act, in line with relevant international law. This witnessed a reduction in acts of piracy and armed robbery in the region. Nevertheless, the continuing civil conflict and political instability in Somalia later gave rise to renewed attacks on ships and a worrying increase in the number of reported incidents.

Shipping companies in Mombasa have borne the brunt of the insecurity situation in Somalia after Somali militia held their vessels. Two years ago, Motakku Shipping company had its vessel held hostage for nearly three months as it delivered WFP aid to the country.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Somalia


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