The first regional agreement between Arab and African countries on
combating piracy has been signed in Djibouti at a special meeting
organized by the International Maritime Organization. The agreement resembles another multinational regional deal
struck in 2005 to fight piracy in Southeast Asia.
Nine countries in the region affected by piracy - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, and Yemen - signed an agreement Thursday to cooperate in preventing ship hijackings and apprehending suspected pirates for arrest and prosecution.
The Djibouti Code of Conduct - as the agreement is referred to - allows one signatory country to send armed forces into another signatory country's territorial waters to pursue pirates and, in some cases, to jointly conduct anti-piracy operations. The nations have also agreed on the creation of piracy information centers to be set up in Kenya, Tanzania, and Yemen, and an anti-piracy military training center to be established in Djibouti.
The Code of Conduct calls on member states to enact new laws or change existing legislation to facilitate the arrest and prosecution of suspected pirates. The regional coordinator of the International Maritime Organization, John Muindi, says a temporary solution has been suggested to give governments time to act.
"If there is one country without relevant laws, then the one with [relevant laws] can prosecute. But the IMO is insisting the countries come up with their own legislation," he explained.
In developing a mechanism to fight piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, the IMO followed the model of another regional government-to-government anti-piracy agreement, which went into effect almost three years ago.
The agreement, called the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, has more than a dozen signatories and is credited with helping reduce the number of successful pirate attacks in the Malacca Straits.
The IMO says the sharing of piracy-related information through the Singapore-based Information Sharing Center is a good example of successful regional cooperation that could be easily replicated.
But according to reports from the International Maritime Bureau, the piracy problem in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden has grown far larger and more complicated than in Asia.
Last year, pirates attacked more than 110 vessels off the coast of Somalia, successfully hijacking 42 ships and crew, including an oil-laden supertanker and a freighter loaded with Russian tanks and other arms. The United Nations estimates that pirates also earned more than $100 million in ransom money, driving up shipping and insurance costs to record levels.
The worsening situation has prompted more than a dozen countries, including the United States, China, Russia, India, Iran and countries in the European Union, to send warships to patrol the region. But the intervention has had limited success because there are no international laws or treaties that can be used to determine the fate of pirates arrested by foreign navies outside of Somali waters.
The Djibouti Code of Conduct is viewed as one of the first steps toward finding a way to transfer pirates to stand trial in a near-by country.