Southern Africa has strengthened security in its coastal areas as the tide of maritime piracy treks south and threatens trade along the Mozambique Channel.
As Somali pirates venture southwards in the Indian Ocean where they have attacked or seized commercial vessels since 2005, Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states are taking steps to confront the growing problem that has confronted the shipping industry over the past few years.
The capture of a Somali pirate “mother ship” north of Madagascar last year has highlighted the increasing threat of piracy in the Mozambique Channel and its implications for peace and security as well as trade within SADC.
Located between Madagascar on the east and Mozambique on the west, the Mozambique Channel forms an important trade route from southern Africa and the South Atlantic to and from the Indian Ocean.
The Channel is a strategic trade route for SADC, carrying more than half of the region’s merchandise exports and imports.
As a result of the large volume of SADC’s goods that pass through the 2,400 kilometre-long Channel, the threat posed by Somali pirates as they move south in search of easier hunting grounds is of serious concern to the region.
SADC is increasingly becoming an attractive alternative ground for pirates as they try to avoid scrutiny by international anti-piracy forces that now monitor the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.
At least six vessels registered in or belonging to SADC countries have been attacked or seized by Somali pirates since 2007. These include two Tanzanian-registered ships, FV Mavuno 1 and 2, captured in May 2007; and a Seychelles yacht, MV Serenity, seized in February 2009.
The hijackings intensified in 2010 when at least three SADC-registered vessels were attacked. These were the Tanzanian-registered MV Barakaale 1, the South African-owned SY Choizil, and Mozambique’s FV Vega 5.
Several other foreign-owned vessels have also been hijacked in recent years on southern Africa waters in Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
This has prompted SADC countries to deepen cooperation in the area of maritime security.
SADC countries have engaged in bilateral and multilateral anti-piracy efforts to boost security in the Mozambique Channel, the latest such move being the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by South Africa and Mozambique in late 2011.
There are plans to extend the agreement to a trilateral MOU that includes Tanzania in a move meant to prevent the southward expansion of operations by Somali pirates.
South Africa has responded to the threat against SADC shipping by sending a frigate with a helicopter and maritime patrol aircraft to cut off pirate attempts to dominate the Channel.
South African Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told a recent SADC meeting on regional anti-piracy strategy that time was now up for the region to fight piracy.
“There is little doubt that the issue of piracy is beginning to be a serious problem to us. If pirates move into our routes, it will cause a detrimental reaction against many economies.” she said.
“We believe we all share in this vulnerability, as piracy is now in our waters. As SADC’s coastal areas do not fall within patrol areas of the international anti-pirate forces, SADC will have to take responsibility for its own maritime security.”
According to the International Maritime Bureau, the annual cost of piracy to the global economy ranges between US$7 and US$12 billion, with the direct financial costs varying and covering a wide range of things such as ransoms, insurance payments and the cost of re-routing to avoid piracy-prone regions as well as deterrent security.
Ransom payments are, for example, now reportedly averaging over US$5 million per ship. sardc.net
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