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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

International Counter-piracy Update

Thomas P. Kelly
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Washington, DC
April 20, 2012

1:30 P.M., EST


MODERATOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Kelly of our Political Military Affairs Bureau who will deliver a counter-piracy update briefing. Without further ado, here is Mr. Kelly.

MR. KELLY: Thank you very much. I want to thank, first of all, the Foreign Press Center for inviting me to speak here today on the important subject of piracy off the horn of Africa. Today, I’d like to speak to you a little bit about the U.S. response to Somali piracy and why I think our efforts, and the efforts of the international community and the private sector, are making a positive difference.

From the beginning, the United States has adopted a multilateral approach that addresses this issue as a shared challenge. We consider the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia as an essential forum for interaction between states and regional and international organizations.

I’m going to say a few words about some of the key issues pertaining to our counter-piracy effort, and then I’ll be happy to take questions.

Perhaps the most significant factor in the decline of successful pirate attacks have been the steps taken by commercial vessels to prevent and deter attacks from happening in the first place. Industry-developed best management practices to prevent pirate boardings before they take place remain the most effective measures to protect against and repel pirate attacks. The U.S. Government requires U.S. flag vessels sailing in designated high-risk areas to take these security measures.

The United States supports the maritime industry’s use of privately contracted arms security personnel, known in the industry as PCASP, to enhance their vessel’s security. To date, not a single ship using PCASP has been successfully pirated. The United States encourages flag states to allow PCASP as a proven measure to repel pirate attacks.

While the safety of crews is absolutely critical, we believe that submitting to pirate ransom demands only ensures that future crews will be taken hostage. The United States discourages the payment of ransom, as every ransom paid further institutionalizes the practice of hostage taking for profit and promotes its expansion as a criminal enterprise.

The United States supports enhancing the capacity of states, particularly those in the Indian Ocean region, to prosecute and incarcerate suspected pirates. Measures that we support include increased prison capacity in Somalia and developing framework for prisoner transfers so that convicted pirates can serve their sentence back in their home country of Somalia.

Last year, a new maximum security prison built to UN standards opened in Somaliland to hold convicted pirates. Last month, Seychelles transferred 17 convicted pirates to this prison. In March, the Government of Seychelles accepted for prosecution 15 pirates that the U.S. Navy had captured from an Iranian fishing vessel being used by pirates as a mothership.

We’re also focused on identifying and apprehending the criminal conspirators who lead, manage, and finance the pirate enterprise, with the objective of bringing them to trial and disrupting pirate business practices. Interpol’s new piracy database is already yielding results. The United States has indicted and is prosecuting two alleged Somali pirate negotiators.

The only long-term solution to piracy is the reestablishment of stability, responsive law enforcement, and good governance in Somalia. Secretary Clinton noted in her February conference on Somalia held in London, Somalia is at a critical juncture, now with less than four months left to complete the roadmap to end the transition. The United States and its partners are working to help the Transitional Federal Government and other Somali leaders seize this opportunity to make progress toward greater security and political stability. And finally, the United States supports programs to provide Somalis with an alternative to piracy.

That’s the conclusion of my prepared statement. And now I’d be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either side, and state your name and publication for the transcript. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you for coming to the Foreign Press Center. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Can you give us a sense of India’s role and its cooperation with the U.S. and other countries in fighting piracy? And also, is the – have they extended to us – the Indian Ocean, how far they have come this side?

MR. KELLY: India’s a critical partner in our multilateral efforts to combat piracy. Both I, personally, and my boss, Assistant Secretary for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, have traveled to India recently to talk to Indian counterparts about our shared strategy and efforts to combat piracy.

Obviously, India is affected in many ways. As a participant in the global economy, obviously, India is also threatened by the pirate’s attack on international mariners. And as Indians know very well, a very large percent – significant percentage of the hostages taken are Indian citizens, Indian mariners. And so the Indian navy and the Indian Government have been very active participants in acting against pirates. And I believe the Indian navy has had some encounters with Somali pirates.

We’re finding, in terms of your second question on the range of pirates, the pirates’ range is expanding beyond the western Indian Ocean to areas in proximity to the western coast of India. And that’s obviously an issue of concern. As the scope for pirate – piracy activities by Somali pirates expands, it increases the importance of commercial vessels following best management practices and considering the use of PCASP. Because even though we have an unprecedentedly large naval coalition that is participating to try to push back against the pirates, the Indian Ocean is simply too vast of a territory for naval forces alone to be able to control the problem.

QUESTION: I thank you for having this. My name is Yoshiki Kishida. I work for a Japanese newswire, JiJi Press. The Japanese Government is considering to provide patrol vessel, anti-piracy patrol vessel to Yemen. How do you think this will contribute to U.S. efforts of counter-piracy?

MR. KELLY: Well, we, and many other members of the Contact Group to Combat Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, believe that one of the important strategic elements to combat piracy is reinforcing a regional capacity to combat pirates, whether that’s reinforcing the ability of regional prosecutors to try and convict pirates or to strengthen regional coast guards and naval forces so that they can do more to protect themselves in shipping in their territorial waters and off their coast. So I would see that proposal as consistent what – with what the United States and many other governments are trying to do.

QUESTION: I’m Chidanand Rajghatta from the Times of India. I apologize if you already addressed this; I walk in a few minutes late. What is the size of the pirate community, if one may use that term, in Somalia? And what can be done to address this issue on the ground in Somalia? What is the sociology of piracy in Somalia?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I think, as you know, Somalia is an extraordinary clan-based society. And we think that the pirate networks are dominated by certain clans in a few concentrated regions of Somalia. In terms of what the kind of best onshore strategy is, as I said in my prepared remarks, probably the most important long-term solution to resolving this problem is encouraging good governance and economic development in Somalia. And that is a process that’s – that the multilateral community is addressing, kind of somewhat independently of this struggle against pirates, but something that obviously is going to take a long time.

QUESTION: And are there numbers you can throw? And what is – is there some romance attached to piracy in Somalia? Are these numbers growing? Do we know?

MR. KELLY: No. The – I think that the only romance attached to piracy comes from the media, from Hollywood films, and things like that that show pirates as romantic swashbucklers. In fact, these are thugs, criminals, and murderers who don’t deserve any admiration. We find that most Somalis really disdain these pirates and see them for what they are, which is thugs. But again, because the pirate enterprise often is organized around the clan, sometimes that makes it hard to get at locally.

QUESTION: Any numbers?

MR. KELLY: In terms of the numbers, we don’t have a hard and fast number. But I think that the number of active pirates probably numbers in the hundreds, high hundreds. And one of the critical elements of the structure of pirates, of course, is that these groups are kind of supported by organizers and financiers. And there we’re talking probably about a few dozen individuals. And one of the key elements of our strategy is to try to break those networks by going after the heads of the organization. And that’s going to take a lot of international cooperation, kind of financial forensic work. But at the end of the day, we think that that’s going to be the most effective way, from a law enforcement standpoint, of going after pirates.

QUESTION: Hi. Geoffrey Cunningham from the Saudi Press Agency. I was wondering if there was any concern that Somali pirate – the Somali pirate network, if you will, tries to recruit citizens from other countries and other neighboring nations in the area, if there’s a concern that they recruit people from outside of Somalia?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We’re always looking to see evidence of that. But so far, that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Again, since these pirate networks seem to be organized around kind of clan and communal groups, they tend to go with their own people.

QUESTION: Alexander Pakhomov, Russian news agency TASS. Can you describe the level of cooperation with Russia? And I would like to know your opinion, what else Moscow could do in this affair?

MR. KELLY: Russia is a very active participant in the Contact Group off the Coast of Somalia. When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I met with my Russian counterpart and we shared perspectives on the problem. The Russian navy is active in the Indian Ocean and has taken actions against Somali pirates as well. For specifics on those actions, of course, you’d have to talk to Russian authorities. But we very much value Russian participation in the coalition. And I think it’s another indication of the extraordinary breadth of the multinational naval and governmental coalition that’s arrayed against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

QUESTION: Can I ask a non-piracy question?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: Recently, India and U.S. revived their pol-mil dialogue. Can you give us a sense why it has been revived now? And what was the outcome of it?

MR. KELLY: Sure. I’d be very happy to because my direct boss, Andrew Shapiro, headed the U.S. delegation that was out in Delhi earlier this week. These are the first pol-mil discussions, formal pol-mil talks, between India and the United States in several years. And I was involved in setting those talks up. We believe that we have a broad range of important issues to discuss with India that have both foreign policy and security aspects. And these include things like counter-piracy as well as peacekeeping and just sharing perspectives on the situation in different parts of the world.

Assistant Secretary Shapiro and Joint Secretary Javed Ashraf had very productive two-day – two days of discussion in which they discussed a lot of issues of mutual interest, and we found them to be very useful and we look forward to continuing political-military consultations with our friends in India.

QUESTION: Thanks. Betty Lin of the World Journal [Taiwan]. Could you talk about the Chinese role in anti-piracy and the U.S.-China pol-mil relationship? Thanks.

MR. KELLY: Sure. I was also in Beijing a couple of months ago participating in discussions with the Chinese. And I had meetings at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss counter-piracy issues.

China obviously is a critically important player in the world economy. And China has a huge stake in ensuring that freedom of navigation continues so that global trade can continue unhindered. And so the Chinese navy is also active in the Indian Ocean and is beginning to engage in counter-piracy patrols. And again, we welcome China’s participation in this coalition and think that it’s another indication of the breadth of the coalition and the shared interests that the United States has with China.

QUESTION: Lucia Leal from the Spanish News Wire EFE. I was wondering if you could speak about your cooperation with the European Union, and in particular, if you have anything to say about Spain since there’s been many kidnappings about it. And also about the recent decision by the European Mission Atalanta – I don’t know if you know – they’ve decided to attack land bases. I don’t know if that’s a strategy that the U.S. would like to join.

MR. KELLY: Okay. First of all, in terms of our cooperation with the European Union, we have a very longstanding and deep collaborative relationship with the European Union, many of whose members are our military allies in NATO. So we’re constantly talking to our friends both in capitals and in places like NATO in Brussels, to make sure that we’re coordinating our activities. The U.S. Navy, working in the context of the Consolidated Task Force 151, is – coordinates with European Union naval assets that are in the area.

We also work directly with our Spanish colleagues. We consult with them both in Madrid, and when I was in New York, I made sure that I spent some time talking to my Spanish colleague. Spain’s interest in this issue is clear. Spain historically is an important seagoing nation, and Spain has a very capable navy as well that has played an important role in the counter-piracy effort, and which we value very much.

In terms of the recent action in the EU to authorize possible onshore strikes, I can’t say too much about it besides the fact that we’re waiting to try to see if we can get more information on what they’re planning to do. But in general, I can say that we believe that our current strategy, which is multifaceted and focuses both on at-sea naval response, law enforcement, and support for Somali development and good governance, is showing good results and is a strategy that we should continue.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times [India]. You spoke about the international coalition which is fighting piracy. My question is: Is the coalition succeeding? And are there any weak links in the coalition? Are there countries which need to do more that are not pulling (inaudible). Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Sure. Well, I think if you look at the numbers, the only conclusion you can reach is that we’re indeed succeeding very well. There has been a 50 percent reduction just in the last year in this pirate success rate. That is, when pirates attack ships, they are 50 percent less likely this year to succeed in taking the vessel over and getting the crew as hostages than they were last year. And that’s, I think, a remarkable accomplishment, and I think, above anything, reflects the value of these best management practices as well as the increasing prevalence of these private armed crews that are on board more and more ships.

There are 225 hostages held by pirates right now. There are nine vessels that are held. This both – both of these numbers represents a significant reduction from last year, but 225 people held by pirates is still too many. And so there is many areas in which we need to improve, and that is exactly why we meet so frequently at the multilateral level in the Contact Group to Combat Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. We need to work better in terms of our coordination on tracking pirate financial flows so that we can get the bosses of the pirate networks. We have to continue to do more to help countries in the region, both in terms of their coast guards and navies, but also helping them to prosecute and incarcerate pirates. And we have to remain engaged in the Somali development process, helping the Transitional Federal Government and other important regional authorities in Somalia to work together for the benefit of the Somali people.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions? If there are no more questions, this event is now concluded. Thank you all for coming.

MR. KELLY: Thank you very much.

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