Assistant Sec’y of State for Political-Military Affairs Talks Piracy, Prevention, and the Use of Armed Guards [TRANSCRIPT]

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March 15, 2012

Speaking at a counter-piracy event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this week in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, Andrew J. Shapiro, addressed the issue of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, its effects on the global economy, the use of armed guards and “Best Management Practices”, and the roles the private sector and governments have on combating the problem.  Here are some highlights of his speech:

Piracy is a Global Issue

We live in an era of complex, integrated, and on-demand global supply chains. People in countries around the world depend on secure and reliable shipping lanes for their medicine, their food, their energy, and consumer goods. By preying on commercial ships in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, piracy off the Horn of Africa threatens more than just individual ships. Piracy threatens the life blood of the global economy, and therefore global security and stability.

The Role of the Private Sector in Combating Piracy

The role of the private sector has been critical. Perhaps the most significant factor in the decline of successful pirate attacks has been the steps taken by commercial vessels to prevent and deter attacks from happening in the first place. We have found that the best defense against piracy is vigilance on the part of the maritime industry. In the last few years, we have worked with industry in developing and implementing a variety of measures that are having a tremendous impact.

Naval Escorts and Patrols

Security has increased through U.S. and multi-national naval escorts and patrols, which continue to escort convoys of commercial ships and patrol high risk waters. On any given day, up to 30 vessels from as many as 20 nations conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and beyond. U.S. and international naval forces have thwarted pirate attacks in progress, engaged pirate skiffs and mother-ships, and successfully taken back hijacked ships during opposed boardings.

The Use of Best Management Practices (BMP)

[We] are troubled by the fact that there are commercial ships traveling in pirate-infested areas that have still not implemented these recommended security measures. Some in the shipping industry have been unwilling make basic investments that would render their crews and cargoes less vulnerable to attack. Approximately 20 percent of all ships off the Horn of Africa are not employing best management practices or taking proper security precautions. Unsurprisingly, these 20 percent account for the overwhelming number of successfully pirated ships. We have intensified our efforts to encourage commercial vessels to adopt best management practices. And I encourage anyone in industry to take proper precautions to protect their crews and their cargoes by implementing these practices.

The Use of Armed Guards

[We] have also supported industry’s use of additional measures to ensure their security – such as the employment of armed security teams…

…These teams serve as a potential game-changer in the effort to counter-piracy. This is because – and as anyone in the Navy or Marines can tell you – one of the most difficult combat maneuvers to undertake is to board a ship when coming under fire. While many expected these teams to be made up of undisciplined “cowboys” that would increase the violence at sea, from what we have gathered and observed the opposite has happened.

The Challenges of Using Armed Guards

[We] have encouraged countries to permit commercial vessels to carry armed teams. However, we do note that this is a new area, in which some practices, procedures, and regulations are still being developed. We are working through the Contact Group and the International Maritime Organization or IMO on these issues…

There have been some logistical and technical issues that have arisen with armed security teams – particularly relating to weapons licensing and the transit of these teams through third countries. The United States regularly works with other governments to help resolve questions on weapons licensing to facilitate compliance with the laws of individual port States as related to firearms transfer. We engage through the Contact Group and the IMO to encourage all port and coastal States to adopt legislation that is conducive to smooth, facilitated movements of security team firearms and equipment.

The Payment of Ransom

The U.S. government is acutely aware of the dilemma that ship owners face when ships and sailors are taken hostage. While the safety of the crew is critical, industry must face the fact that submitting to pirate ransom demands only ensures that future crews will be taken hostage. A vicious cycle has formed where ever-rising ransom payments have not just spurred additional pirate activity, but have also enabled pirates to increase their operational capabilities and sophistication.

The United States has a long tradition of opposing the payment of ransom, and we have worked diligently to discourage or minimize ransoms. But many governments and private entities are paying, often too quickly, serving to reinforce this cycle and incentivizing future hostage-taking. While some may consider this the cost of doing business, every ransom paid further institutionalizes the practice of hostage-taking for profit and promotes its expansion as a criminal enterprise both at sea and on land.

[We] strongly encourage flag states, shipowners and private parties involved in hostage crises to seek assistance from appropriate U.S. government sources in their crisis management procedures.

The Role of the U.S. in Combating Pirate Ringleaders

In the effort to combat piracy, we are now targeting pirate ringleaders and their networks. While expanding security and prosecuting and incarcerating pirates captured at sea is essential, we also recognize that the pirates captured at sea are often low-level operatives. Their leaders and facilitators are ashore in Somalia and elsewhere relatively unaffected. After an intensive review of our strategy, Secretary Clinton last year approved a series of recommendations which, taken together, constitute a new strategic approach. A focus on pirate networks is at the heart of our strategy.

We intend to use all of the tools at our disposal in order to disrupt piracy financial flows and to identify and apprehend those who lead the pirate enterprise. We are seeking to make the business model of pirate leaders and facilitators untenable.

In Closing

While there is no simple solution to modern-day piracy, we are making headway in mitigating the threats posed by piracy off the coast of Somalia. The progress that has been achieved is rooted in the close partnership that has been established between this Administration and the private sector in the counter-piracy effort. Piracy continues to pose a severe threat to the maritime industry, global trade and therefore the entire global economy. This means that governments and industry will need to continue to work hand-in-glove to address this problem.

A full transcript of his speech can be found HERE.

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