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Admiral Nirmal Verma Draws Attention of Chiefs of Navies to Criticality of United Action Against Piracy

(Press Information Bureau)

             An International Seapower Symposium was held in New Port, Rhode Island, USA under the aegis of the US Naval War College . The theme of the 20th edition of the symposium was "Security and Prosperity through Maritime Partnerships."

            More than 110 nations, with 75 heads of Navy and 22 heads of Coast Guard, attended the Symposium. Admiral Nirmal Verma addressed the symposium in its inagural session on 19 oct 2011. Drawing attention of the world leaders of Navies and Coast Guards to the need for united action against piracy, Adm  Verma reflected the Indian stand that “the international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations. India’s relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations”.

          Please see below the Unabridged copy of the speech delivered by Adm Verma CNS’ ADDRESS AT THE 20TH INTERNATIONAL SEA POWER SYMPOSIUM

            Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy , Chiefs of Navies and Coast Guards present with us this morning, Admiral Christenson: President of the United States Naval War College- our gracious host, Flag Officers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.  It is always wonderful to be back at the Alma-Mater.  From what I remember, Newport weather has always had the reputation of a temperamental lover – warm, wonderful, or, chillingly cold –most definitely, almost always – delightfully unpredictable.  Today has been wonderful so far and let us all share our optimism for the rest of the week!

           At the outset, I would like to thank Admiral Jonathan Greenert and all the organisers of the International Sea Power Symposium for affording me the opportunity to speak to this august audience on a subject that has affected mariners since times immemorial and yet is very contemporary - maritime piracy.

            The difference today is that piracy at sea which was previously primarily robbery has now morphed into an elaborate network of operations to extract enormous quantities of ransom.  Ransom amounts have increased to an average of 5.4 million USD per ship, from just 150,000 USD five years ago.  According to a recent study by One Earth Future the economic cost of piracy maybe as high as 12 billion USD a year.  This translates into increased operating costs, environmental expenses view rerouting of ships and most importantly, tremendous human costs.  Even as we speak, 09 ships with over 300 seafarers of a range of nationalities, including 53 of my own countrymen are presently hostages in this contentious conflict.  Lethal force and physical abuse are increasingly being used by pirates to leverage ransom negotiations.

            The roots of Piracy are diverse; predominantly, political instability which has created a void of governance and economic opportunities ashore resulting in the manifestation of this menace at sea. Also worth reflecting upon, are the Somalian claims that the origins of piracy can be traced back to illegal fishing by other countries and dumping of toxic waste in their EEZ. Given the complications involved, no single response will solve the problem. While there may be some ambiguities about what we can or should do, there is no doubt that the fundamental prerequisite to any solution is the collaborative engagement of a wide range of maritime nations and littoral states. In this context I would highlight the work of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS)  under the aegis of the United Nations, which we believe is doing sterling work for coordinating international cooperation particularly information sharing.  In the similar vein are the efforts of the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) initiative and that of UK Maritime Trade Operation (UKMTO) which functions from Dubai. These engagements have facilitated an agreement between independently deployed navies like Japan and India to coordinate their anti piracy operations, so that international shipping has more flexible options for escort schedules.       

            Beyond piracy’s complex genesis, it is interesting to highlight the metamorphosis of pirate activities. Despite multinational efforts, the number of incidents and net effects of piracy are on the increase with seasonal variations on account of the monsoons and geographic shifts dependent on the presence of naval units.  The international efforts off the Gulf of Aden have resulted in piracy spreading to other areas of the Indian Ocean which had not experienced these attacks earlier.  Some of these areas have been not too distant from India’s Lakshadweep and Mincoy group of islands and naturally therefore this has been a cause of concern to us.  It has become evident that pirates are changing their modus of operations as they have been observed to use hijacked merchant vessels as mother ships. This has given them an extended reach of over 1000 nautical miles from the Somali coast. 

            Given their changing tactics and operations, it is as Clausewitz would tell us imperative to strike at their centre of gravity, ‘the hub of all power and movement, on which all else depends’.  To my mind, their Centre of Gravity is the elaborate network of financers that fund operations and facilitate revenue collection. A recent UN report revealed that of the ransom paid in each incident of piracy only 20% reaches the pirates, while financers and sponsors hive off 50%. The question that begs to be answered is that how do they manage to divert funds in so unfettered a manner?  Therefore, there is a need to build a strategy beyond multinational maritime counter piracy operations to facilitate tracking of the fiscal trail.  

            It is important that our efforts be cultivated before what is at present a relatively benign problem of piracy, develops a nexus with radical terrorism which has a cancerous potential.   

            Moving on to what we are doing and some thoughts about what it is that we can collectively achieve.

            What we are seeing today is a hitherto unprecedented,  full and willing cooperation between a wide range of navies to combat piracy by providing credible deterrence thereby enhancing commercial confidence and facilitating the freedom of navigation in the global commons. 

            What is required is the collaborative engagement of both major maritime powers as well as the littoral states. The importance of littoral states towards a viable solution was best amplified by the success of the South-East Asian countries to combat piracy.  While it is obvious to highlight that Somalia is a failed State, in stark contrast to the economically vibrant Southeast Asia, nevertheless, Somalia does have comparatively stable neighbours who could contribute to a regional response and international efforts could provide impetus to the fledgling Somali Coast Guard. Larger maritime forces could facilitate training of local navies and coast guards. 

            We in India are particularly concerned about the safety of mariners in the Indian Ocean since we are geographically centred aside the major shipping routes in the region.  Units of the Indian Navy have been tasked to carry out escorts in the Gulf of Aden, irrespective of their nationality, since October 2008.  So far, of the nearly 1800 ships that have been escorted by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden, more than 80% have been flying flags other than Indian.  I had mentioned about the shift in the areas of operations of the pirates closer to our island territories and consequently we have had to increase our anti piracy deployments.  This resulted in four pirate mother ships being intercepted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard earlier this year.  Consequently, there has been a reduction of piracy incidents in the area and we intend to maintain this posture to assure international shipping.

            Subsequently, we also noticed a shift in the ISLs in the Arabian Sea as merchant vessels attempt to avoid piracy prone areas.  Some of these new routes are 15 to 20 nautical miles off our coast and there have now been instances wherein regular fishermen have been mistaken as pirates.  In this cycle of ‘cause-effect-cause’, there is a real danger of innocent casualties on account of mistaken identities. We have therefore issued advisories on this aspect.

            If piracy is to be deterred, the present ‘risk versus reward quotient’ must be inverted exponentially by the development of appropriate laws and Rules of Engagement. These require both national and international consensus which can be facilitated by an exchange of the first hand operational experience of navies presently involved in anti piracy operations, beside ideas from legal and academic circles as well as the expertise and local knowledge of the regional players.

            Naval forces have been facing a major dilemma about apprehending pirates at sea, due to the inadequacy or ineffective legal mechanisms to prosecute pirates who have been arrested. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 apprehended pirates benefit from the 'catch and release' policy followed by most navies till now. In India we are presently faced with the challenge of prosecuting over a hundred pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and held in our country. We have moved to make new and effective domestic laws, and we hope to have these in place. I am sure similar challenges are being experienced by other countries as well and if we can share experiences in this regard, it will be a positive step in our collective fight against piracy. 

            While many of these are policy issues that may take time to craft consensus, there are operating procedures that can be adopted immediately.  

            The Best Management Practices that have been published suggest a variety of planning and operational practices for ship operators and masters of ships transiting through high risk areas. This is a noteworthy initiative which includes suggestions such as having high freeboards, proceeding at high speeds, use of barbed wire and water cannons, employment of sentries  and establishing ‘citadels’ or ‘safe rooms’ onboard. One measure that is increasingly gaining preference is the use of armed security guards.  In this context the maritime community has to be cautious of cases of mistaken identity which I had alluded to earlier.  

            To mitigate such risks we have been using acoustic devices that have long range capability with built in phraselators that facilitate passing instructions in Somali language. 

            Towards minimising the possibility of situational escalation we have resorted to a rather unique measure of using our ship’s life rafts.  Once the mother ship has been forced to stop, the pirates and crew are made to leave the mother ship and get on the life rafts released by the naval ship.  This ensures that the pirates cannot carry arms; after which, they can be brought onboard for further investigation.

            The shipping community could consider installation of mechanisms to disable their engines once it becomes evident that pirates are succeeding in gaining control.  This may discourage their attempts to commandeer the vessel with of course the attended risk of force escalation by the pirates on account of their frustrations.  This reemphasises the importance of establishing a citadel onboard.   

            Finally, I would conclude with the reflection that, the international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations. India’s relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations. Our Prime Minister in his speech at the UN General Assembly last month called upon the comity of nations to evolve a comprehensive and effective response to the problem of piracy and has assured the world of India’s readiness to work with other nations in this regard.

            With these thoughts I conclude my remarks.