maritime piracy

P.Goossens (PAM): we still don't have an escort for our boats

Peter Goossens is coordinator of the World Food Program (WFP) for Somalia.

You have just met several European officials from the Commission, from the Parliament to Brussels, what is your message?
First, we are facing an expanding food crisis in the Horn of Africa. We have food for 3-4 months. But what we need to prepare for are the following months. So we need $35 million per month. Second, you can give us all the money and food we need. If I can't get it there, it's lost.

So you need a maritime escort?
Yes. All the food comes from the sea. There are no other possibilities for such quantities. I can easily find the five to fifteen boats needed to deliver the necessary food aid. But no shipowner, no captain wants to venture near the Somali coast, where pirates rule the roost, without serious security guarantees. So without a solid military escort.

Do you currently have one?
Yes, it’s been the Canadians since mid-August. But their mission ends at the end of September. And, after that, I no longer have anyone. European states have been among the most active. It was at the initiative of France that the escorts started last October. The Danes took over; then the Dutch until the end of June. Seriously, I hope they find a solution.

No one offered?
No. The Germans or the Spanish, Italians, South Africans, Indians think about it, apparently. But I have not received any specific and concrete offer. And the end of September is getting closer. I therefore say that “it is good to think of us and to want to help us. But it's better to take action, to really help us”. I know that it is difficult, that it costs the States. But I also know that it is the only solution.

You do not have sufficient stocks on site to cope?
For a few days, yes. But if it lasts, no. We no longer have enough food there. Between the mission of the Danes and the Canadians, we had six weeks apart, without escort. We were able to find two small ships which agreed to transport us 9 tonnes. But it was not enough (and far from the 000 needed per month). The stocks that allowed us to last in this interval are now almost exhausted. And if such an interval happens again, we don't really have a way to cope.

The food situation in Somalia is so serious?
In fact, everything will depend on the autumn rains (in October – November). How long will this rain last and how much water will it bring? The spring rains (April – June) were indeed not sufficient. And the situation has been bad for three consecutive years. If this autumn rain is bad again, we will really have problems. If it will be good or just normal, we can stabilize the situation.

Otherwise…
It will be starvation. A famine like we haven't seen in 25 years. We will see the images of the 1980s again. And we will be able to count the dead in the thousands, or even more. The crisis is really serious. You have to take the situation really seriously. And secure us that military naval escort that we need.

You have just met the new “piracy” coordination unit for Somalia (Eu Navco). What comes out of it?
We discussed in very operational and concrete terms the type and number of boats we needed, and the different methods of protection. For example, patrols or naval escorts…

Between the two, do you prefer?
We do not need patrols but above all escorts (1). We want to be sure that our boats arrive. And not a probability. With the organization and speed of intervention of the pirates, by the time the patrol boat arrives in the area, the pirates will have already gone on the attack. Only the escort provides this security and sufficient deterrence. Without it, there is no possibility of chartering boats.

Isn't there another alternative to State ships, private companies?
If we can't find another way, we'll have to think about it. But I don't prefer to use this solution. I'm not sure this is the most effective solution. And also for more ethical questions, we don't really know what these companies are doing outside. And we prefer not to deal with them.

In the longer term, what solution do you think could be envisaged with regard to pirates?
I only see two solutions. Either we attack the pirates' land bases (and everyone knows where they are). Either we arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement in Somalia. I don't know which is more difficult. (…) If you ask my personal opinion, I am not a military expert, but the land attack seems easier to me than a peace agreement!

Does this require an agreement at the United Nations?
Yes. Because Security Council resolution 1816, which allows the use of force, allows maritime action but not land.

(1) A patrol evolves in a more or less large area, for the purpose of securing it and stands ready to intervene within a more or less variable time (hours or days). An escort accompanies the boats to be protected (by air and/or sea), even by placing intervention commandos on board the ships and therefore has a very short response time.

(NGV)

(article published in Europolitics on September 22)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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