Tanzania keen to curb piracy

Tanzania keen to curb piracy

During a conference entitled “Global Challenge, Regional Responses: Forging a Common Approach to Maritime Piracy,” held in Dubai on April 18-19, last year, a few revelations emerged. One is the fact that, globally, attacks have increased from 239 in 2006 to 445 in 2010, with 1,181 seafarers taken hostage in the previous year alone. Secondly is the fact that the total annual economic cost is estimated at between seven to 12 billion US dollars.

Another fact that was revealed was that despite growing awareness of the threat, and a variety of national, regional and international initiatives, the tide of piracy continues to rise and that the pirates too seem to have been changing tactics. Improved tactics, the use of “motherships,” powerful weapons and access to advanced technology for tracking and monitoring potential targets have improved pirate capabilities and this trend is likely to continue.

The expansion of petroleum and natural gas fields, coupled with local political instability and lessons learnt from Somali pirates could shift coastal attacks further out at sea. But believing that piracy can be suppressed solely at sea is largely illusory. The conference concluded that in spite of substantial investments in a number of areas, the current international response falls short of what is required to end this phenomenon.

It was agreed that an effective and enduring solution to the global challenge of maritime piracy will entail a long-term, comprehensive effort, both onshore and offshore, which involves all relevant public and private sector stakeholders. The regional theatres of operation, in which most maritime piracy occur, are very spread out, these include Somaliabased piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the northwest Indian Ocean, as well as in the Strait of Malacca and Southeast Asia, and in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Africa.

Somali-based pirates are the ones that pose the greatest threat to maritime activities in countries like Tanzania. Experts have emphasized that while the emergence of Somalia as the dominant global piracy hotspot is a relatively recent occurrence, the range and capabilities of Somali pirates have grown steadily.

They now hunt vessels over 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia. The most disturbing part is the fact that the concrete drivers of the crisis inside Somalia hardly feature in the debate of forging a common approach to maritime piracy. It is against that background that countries like Tanzania have been forced to, and have thus far succeeded in coming up with and implementing its own strategies to curb piracy in its territorial waters.

There are currently several companies prospecting for oil and gas off the coast of Tanzania. These companies have invested heavily in the exploration and Tanzania stands to benefit immensely if the explorations lead to substantial findings. In turn, it is expected that the welfare of Tanzanians will be improved in the future. It should be noted that companies that have invested in the exploration of oil and gas have also created jobs both directly and indirectly within the country and more jobs will be created in future.

It is thus in the government’s interest, present and future, to guarantee and ensure that the explorers operate in a secure environment. And since the Somali pirates have been menacing the waters of the Indian Ocean, they have been a serious threat to prospective investors, their property and people employed by the ventures.

It is not only the oil and gas exploration companies that will suffer if the problem of piracy is not checked. The Minister for Transport, Mr Omar Nundu, told Parliament in August, 2010, that piracy is a serious problem in Tanzania’s territorial waters because it has not only led to increased transport costs but has also scared off tourist cruise ships and cargo ships from sailing to Tanzania.

President Jakaya Kikwete also expressed his concern over the growing levels of piracy during his address to the 66th United Nations General Assembly, last year. He said that there are now increased pirate attacks taking place as far South from Somalia as Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar and that since last year, when piracy activity moved south into our territorial waters, 13 ships have been attacked and five of which were hijacked.

Recently, Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) Navy Commander, Major General Said Shaaban Omar, said that in 2006 Tanzania received 20 luxury cruise liners full of tourists but the figure dwindled down to just two ships in 2010. “Last year Tanzania did not get a single liner ship. This is a serious situation,” Major General Omar said at the army’s headquarters. He said the flow of cargo ships at Dar es Salaam Port has also been affected since piracy activities started to ‘officially’ roll in the region in 2005.

Data from Tanzania Port Authority (TPA) Shipping Traffics (Deep Sea and Coastal Vessels) show that vessels flow in Tanzania has dropped from 1,621 in 2007 to 1,228 in 2010. Likewise the amount of cargo has decreased from 1.7 million metric tons in 2007 to 1.3 million in 2009. Also trade has dropped from 2.0 million 20-Feet Container Equivalent Unit (TEU) in 2007 to 1.4 in 2009.

“Our port has severely being denied revenues because now only few ships that can afford security costs, which have gone up from one to five million US dollars (8.5bn/-) per year, manage to dock in Tanzania,” he said, adding that the situation has been a reason for the rise of prices of commodities in the country. According to the Major General, piracy business, which started in Tanzania Exclusive Economic Zone and other counties south of Somalia in January 2010 following an increased security at Gulf of Eden, has decreased following Navy’s efforts despite meager resources.

“Until December 2010 a total of 29 pirate activities occurred out of which four were successful,” he said, highlighting the attack on MV Mchone which the army managed to capture 12 pirates. In 2011 about nine events were reported including the one involving MV Gemini which was attacked about 232 kilometers off Dar es Salaam coast. In general, piracy will lead to grave consequences in the not too distant future and if it is not checked it will become a major threat to the country’s economy.

These pirates are no average criminals; they seem to be good at collecting and acting on specific information. They did not travel all the way to Mtwara to simply try their luck, they knew exactly what they wanted and they were determined to get it. They simply do not care what happens to the people they attack and they are driven by greed and lust for wealth. The recent attempts off the coast of Tanzania are a clear testimony that they did not drift all the way from Somalia, the attack was well planned and orchestrated.

So far pirates have caused loss worth between 13 to 16 billion US dollars (27.2tr/- ). According to Major Omar, Somali boys aged between 15 and 35 years get between 6,000 US dollars (10.2m/-) to 15,000 US Dollars (25.5m/-) in one successful piracy trip they make, which makes it a lucrative business for many youth in the war-torn Somalia. As the president said, Tanzania needs the support of the international community to help build capacity to fight piracy.

He also said that the country welcomes any readiness to assist in improving courts and prisons to try and punish pirates. On the one hand, it is the duty of the state to safeguard the interests of investors, and the quick responses demonstrated by security services may suffice to build confidence amongst investors. It goes to show that Tanzania is capable of fighting piracy and can do better given the necessary capacity.

On the other hand, investors who have crucial interests in the country’s territorial waters should also see the need to assist in building the capacity to ward off piracy. That would be a win-win situation as their interests would be secured and the country would have bolstered security in its waters. Countries like Tanzania need the support of the international community and other stakeholders in identifying the key players that finance piracy.

This will be the most important fight in combating piracy, taking it to the pirates and their financers before they can cause harm to more people and countries. Major General Omar said there was a need for Tanzania to strengthen maritime defense services to be able to effectively protect the borders and ocean economic resources. “If we fail to protect our borders properly there is a danger of private companies to take over the duties, which in my opinion will not be a healthy situation. Navy should be empowered to cope with the current and future demand,” he noted.

TO some, Moses Mbaga, is an Al Muntazir ...


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