SA should lead fight against piracy off Africa

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

South Africa has the capability to lead in the fight against piracy off the African continent, says Commander of the United States Naval Forces Mark Fitzgerald, writes Edwin Tshivhidzo.

Piracy, poaching, armed robberies and other illegal activities such drug and human trafficking are becoming a major concern among many nations. In recent months there have been a number of ships hijacked for large sums of money off the Somali coast.

Approximately 95 percent of the world's trade is conducted via the sea.

Speaking to BuaNews at the 3rd Sea Power for Africa Symposium currently underway in Cape Town, Admiral Fitzgerald said South Africa had the capability to lead the fight against hijacked ships and piracy.

He said, however, it would require all nations working so that pirates would be left with nowhere to hide.

"It is time for governments to join forces against illegal activities in their waters. By sharing information, we will weaken their strategy," he said, adding that maritime played a major role in Africa's economic growth.

He said it was imperative for governments to invest heavily on their navies and ensure they are well equipped. "Lack of proper training and resources has been identified as a major obstacle in the protection of maritime."

There was also the urgent need for the establishment of an early warning system to ensure adequate time and distance to detect, deter, interdict and defeat the array of maritime security threats, he said.

One of the resolutions agreed upon during the 1st Sea Power for Africa Symposium held in Cape Town in 2005 was the need for the establishment for an Early Warning System to ensure pro-active, effective and efficient prevention of piracy.

Training was also identified as a critical requirement to ensure availability of professionally skilled human resources.

Rear Admiral Robert Higgs, Flag Officer Fleet of the South African Navy agreed that South Africa could play a leading role in fighting piracy.

"South Africa is a significant role player on the continent; South Africa also has the strongest and the most powerful navy."

He said South Africa did not face any threat of piracy itself. "We do not have pirates operating on our waters," he said.

Asked if the South African Navy was prepared to assist in operations off the Somali coast, Admiral Higgs said they were more than prepared to help but said the decision is made at a political level.

Dr Paul Musili Wambua, a researcher from Kenya, emphasised the need for regional cooperation saying pirates take advantage of the instability in the vulnerable region to create safe havens from where they can further their criminal conduct with impunity and where it is near impossible to track them down.

Traditionally, maritime patrol could be accomplished by boats, surface ships, submarines or aircraft that are adequately equipped to act against threats to security in an area of interest.

In recent years, the South African government acquired state-of-the art frigates and submarines to patrol the sea.