Libya Conflict Diverts Navies From Piracy, IMO Says

Fighting in Libya between rebels and national leader Muammar Qaddafi is diverting naval ships from anti-piracy patrols, according to the International Maritime Organization.

“One has to be pragmatic and realistic and accept and understand that ships that might be made available to support counter-piracy will be deployed to address the Libyan crisis,” Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos said at a conference in London today.

Attacks on ships by Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, an area as large as Europe rose to a record in 2011’s first half, according to the IMO, the United Nations’ shipping agency. Pirates attacked 187 vessels and hijacked 22 in the period, its figures show. Piracy costs the global economy an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion a year, the IMO says.

Mitropoulos said the timing of his request to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in February for more ships was “unfortunate” in coinciding with the eruption of political unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa.

“I have not been informed of any increase in the number of ships made available off Somalia” since then, the IMO chief said.

23,000 Vessels

Three naval coalitions of NATO, the European Union and the U.S.-led Combined Maritime Force had between 10 and 16 vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden to cover 2.6 million square miles, Major General Buster Howes, operation commander European Union Naval Force Somalia, said at a U.K. parliamentary hearing on June 22. Some 23,000 ships and $1 trillon worth of trade transit the gulf annually, according to Howes.

Still, pirates’ success rate in attacking merchant ships dropped over the past three years as navies intervened more often, Mitropoulos said. They succeeded in hijacking or robbing fewer than 20 percent of vessels attacked this year, compared with a 50 percent success rate in 2008, he said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization offered spare civilian workers to train regional coast guards under an IMO program to which 18 African countries have signed up, Philip Holihead, who heads up the project, said at the conference. Terms have yet to be made final, he said.

The IMO asked EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton for naval vessels equipped with helicopters, aircraft, special-forces teams, supply ships, linguists and medical facilities, Mitropoulos said, without indicating whether he had received any response.

(Corrects number of signatories to Djibouti code of conduct in eighth paragraph of story published July 21.)
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