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Is the EU piracy effort deteriorating?

Danish and European shipowners are concerned that the EU's financial problems are pushing the fight against piracy in Africa off the agenda. As a result, shipowners, prominent officials, and EU politicians are meeting tonight, Wednesday, in Brussels.

Photo: Josef Polleross

EU is the only one who holds all the tools to sustain a significant effort against piracy off the Horn of Africa and West Africa, but the financial problems of the EU countries, by far the number one priority on the EU agenda, are causing fear among shipowners that the anti-piracy effort has started to deteriorate, which is why the Danish Shipowners' Association and member of the European Parliament Anna Rosbach have invited a series of influential officials from the EU Commission, as well as other members of the Parliament to a panel discussion at the EU Parliament in Brussels on Wedneday night, December 5th, with a showing of the acclaimed Danish movie A Hijacking as a key feature of the meeting.

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"We believe we've done a great deal to keep the anti-piracy effort on the agenda in Brussels. But we're concerned that the effort will disappear from the agenda, in light of the massive budget problems in the EU and the financial problems of the member states. These days, the anti-piracy effort doesn't seem to be very high on the agenda of the Transportation Commissioner, or the EU's Head of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton," says Simon Bergulf (photo), Director of the Danish Shipowners' Association's office in Brussels:

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"It's important  not to forget that there are currently 150 people held hostage in Somalia. The EU has all the tools, and if the EU starts to withdraw, we have a serious problem," stresses Simon Bergulf, who points to the EU diplomatic tools through its foreign services, trade- and development initiatives, including direct investments in Somalia, as well as the fact that the EU holds the necessary legal and military capacity.

"No other international organization has this kind of concentrated capacity, though the UN and NATO are involved too."

Fewer attacks

The piracy activity off the coast of Somalia has been decreasing for a long period of time. The same thing goes for the number of failed attacks on ships, a development that is attributed, among other things, to the presence of maritime guards on board the ships.

European shipowners are working to complete the maritime capacity rebuilding, passed by the EU Ministers a year ago, in December 2011, the so-called EUCAP Nestor. The concept represents a joint safety- and defense mission at the Horn of Africa, including the affected countries by the Indianc Ocean.

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"Instead of pulling out, because things are looking better, we would rather that the anti-piracy effort was given the last push, so that we can get past all this. That's why financial support, for military hardware as well, for EUCAP Nestor is still important. At the same time, it's a huge frustration for the shipowners that captured pirates have to be released again due to the lack of a legal basis," says Simon Bergulf, the Danish Shipowners Association.

Pirates are not under control

Last summer, the Danish Shipowners Association expressed its deep concern about whether the EU Commission and the Transportation Directory under EU Commissioner Siim Kallas were about to hand over a big part of the responsibility for carrying out the European anti-piracy effort to the foreign service, that is, to the EU's high ranking representative for foreign affairs and security politics, Catherine Ashton.

"That's the impression we're getting, and what we're hearing when speaking to Brussels," said Jan Fritz Hansen, vice president of the Danish Shipowners Association and Chairman of the European shipowners' piracy committee:

"It's very important that we hang onto this. The piracy is far from under control, even though the number of attacks have dropped significantly, and the naval forces in the region of the Horn of Africa have a high success rate. We are of course very pleased with this, but now's the time to finish the job. The EU's Transportation Directory is a key player for us, and it's absolutely central in relation to securing the operational and legal conditions," said Jan Fritz Hansen to ShippingWatch.

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