Lack of consensus holding back anti-piracy policy: Experts


New Delhi : Lack of global consensus on formulating a coherent anti-piracy policy under the auspices of the UN is holding back India from acting against Somali pirates, security analysts feel.

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“Any action by the Indian Navy in the merchant navy arena involves a lot of hassles, including insurance, because the navy needs permission from the owner company to take action on board the ship. The Indian Navy can only board a ship under the Indian flag,” Commodore (retired) Ranjit B. Rai told IANS.

Rai is the vice president of the Indian Maritime Foundation and a former director of naval operations.

“The pirates have been very clever. They immediately take the (hijacked) ship to the territorial waters of Somalia. The Indian Navy cannot take action against pirates on a ship under the flag of another country and in the territorial waters of a third country,” Rai added.

For India, the issue has gained significance as a large percentage of merchant sailors around the world come from India.

According to Rai, the UN should constitute an international task force to contain piracy in the Gulf of Aden, one of the busiest and now pirate-infested shipping lanes in the world.

“The UN should define piracy more discreetly and allow an international task force like the UN peacekeeping force to fight piracy. It should also lay down which country’s navy will do what,” Rai added.

For long, the Indian Navy has been seeking the defence ministry’s nod to actively combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, which is an important route for supply of fuel and other goods to the country.

In the UN Security Council resolution 1816 passed in June 2008, the international body had given permission for cooperating with the Transitional Federation Government (TFG) of Somalia to enter its territorial waters.

“For a period of six months from the date of this resolution, states cooperating with the TFG in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia may enter the territorial waters of Somalia for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with such action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law,” the UNSC resolution 1816 states.

Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), says “diffidence” on the part of India, a strong maritime force in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), is the main roadblock for anti-piracy policy.

“The only thing which is holding back India’s coherent anti-piracy policy is its diffidence. We would have been undertaking certain things permissible under law. India, which has the highest politico-military framework, has not been doing enough,” said Bhaskar.

According to an Indian Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the request to take strong measures against pirates has not been able to get past the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

“India has a legal framework to give a go-ahead to the navy to function in the territorial waters of Somalia as it is a signatory to the UNCLAWS (UN Conference on the Laws of Seas), which specifically deals with the menace of piracy, and the UN Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation,” the official elaborated.

However, Rai cautioned: “Giving carte blanche permission to the Indian Navy will be a difficult decision for the country. MEA and not the Indian Navy is the ultimate authority to answer all the questions if something goes wrong.”