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No EU naval force to be sent to West Africa

European shipowners will not have an EU naval force to combat piracy off West Africa. The EU-Commission opts for an entirely different solution.

Photo: AP Photo, Yves Logghe

West Africa is different from Somalia which is a defunct state. In West Africa you have individual states like Nigeria or Ghana, so in order to establish an international naval force to protect the commercial ships and combat piracy, the initiative should come from these states

Siim Kallas, EU Commissioner for Transport

Ships, crew members and shipowners will not receive immediate naval support from EU off the coast of West Africa.

In an interview with ShippingWatch, EU-Commissioner of Transportation, Siim Kallas, reveals that a request by the European Shipowners Assosiation (ECSA) for an EU naval force operating in the Bay of Guniea will not be met.

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Today, the EU naval force is engaged successfully off the coast of Somalia on a mandate which is already expected to be prolonged when it expires next year. But a similar set-up will not be made off West Africa although it is documented that a rising number of violent attacks have occurred in the region. Instead, the EU-Commission has embarked on a global solution to secure the waters against the pirates, Siim Kallas explains.

“West Africa is different from Somalia, which is a defunct state. In West Africa you have individual states like Nigeria or Ghana, so in order to establish an international naval force to protect the commercial ships and combat piracy, the initiative should come from these states,” says Siim Kallas.

Does not want foreign fleet

It was at a meeting in June this year that the request by the European Shipowners was presented to Kallas and a number of officials from his Cabinet. The Chairman of ECSAs Piracy Committee, vice president of the Danish Shipowners Assosiation, Jan Fritz Hansen, urged the EU for action as the situation was getting out of control, he said.

"There was a consensus that the situation in West Africa is completely unacceptable. A joint effort is needed, as was the case with Somalia. This could either be a joint naval effort to protect the ships, strengthening the local effort, or supplying development aid to the region. We also need to reach an agreement concerning the use of guards. There's currently no such agreement, which means the shipping companies have to rely on local guards or companies," said Jan Fritz Hansen to ShippingWatch after the meeting.

West Africa anti-piracy effort looks like a tough job

Both shipowners and piracy consultants have pointed out that the situation off West Africa could be more difficult to comprehend and control, as at West Africa - as opposed to Somalia and the Gulf of Aden - one is not just dealing with ships passing through on the way to their final destinations, but ships that are actually calling in the various national ports. Each with its own legislation, police authority, and fleet.

Working with the Malacca model

But according to Siim Kallas coastal states at West Africa are reluctant to invite international naval forces to patrol their waters. Consequently, the EU is working to set up a model similar to that in the Malacca Strait where a coalition of voluntary countries collaborates to prevent piracy and protect shipping lines.

“Shipping nations like Singapore and Denmark are part of the Mallaca ReeCAAP coalition. The Malacca Strait was once one of the most piracy-prone areas in the world in history, and they have managed to substantially reduce piracy in that area. This is a model we support for Western Africa as well. European countries can be members, or, the European Union can be a member. Then we would be very happy to provide our anti-piracy expertise, including all the very useful information we have learned from Somalia,” says Siim Kallas.

So that is your message to these countries. EU can participate in a global voluntary force, but the initiative must come from the African countries?

“Yes, it could come from one of the leading countries like Nigeria,” concludes Siim Kallas.

Read more about ReCAAP's work here.

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