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London Somalia conference welcomed by IMO chief

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) visited IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu at IMO HQ prior to the London Somalia conference

The outcome of a UK-hosted conference on Somalia has been welcomed by IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu. The conference, held at Lancaster House, London yesterday (Thursday 23 February), saw a wide-ranging examination of the many problems currently afflicting Somalia, including piracy. Convened by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, it dealt with issues such as security, local stability, counter-terrorism, humanitarian aspects, the political process and international co-operation.

Mr. Sekimizu was part of a United Nations delegation to the London event headed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Speaking after the event, Mr. Sekimizu said, “Mention of the word ‘Somalia’ in a maritime context leads almost exclusively to thoughts of piracy. But, as this conference so clearly highlights, piracy is just one manifestation of the widespread and deep-rooted problems that beset that country and its people.”

A comprehensive and detailed communique adopted by the conference called for, among other things, full implementation of the IMO-led Djibouti Code of Conduct and the adoption of an Exclusive Economic Zone.  It also welcomed current work on international guidance on the use of private armed security companies.

Mr. Sekimizu said: “On the issue of piracy, the Conference agreed that piracy cannot be solved by military means alone and reiterated the importance of supporting local communities to tackle the underlying causes of piracy and improving effective use of Somali coastal waters through regional maritime capacity-building measures. I will re-double my efforts to ensure that IMO will provide further support to signatory states of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, including Somalia, within the Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund and accelerate the process of implementation by the IMO.”

Since first raising the issue of Somalia-based piracy with the UN Security Council in 2005, IMO has worked to strengthen the protection of persons, ships and cargoes in piracy-infested areas and also preserve the integrity of shipping lanes of strategic importance and significance.

Mr. Sekimizu said, “While not diminishing in any way the importance of immediate, preventative measures, an ever-greater emphasis must now be placed on tackling the problem across broader fronts.”

The building of effective counter-piracy capacity and infrastructure in the affected region; the development of proper legal and criminal infrastructures; undermining the pirate economy and its associated financial model; helping to develop viable, alternative sources of income for those who have been, or may be, tempted to turn to crime are some of the areas on which efforts should now be concentrated if piracy is to be eradicated.

Mr. Sekimizu and Mr. Ban have been engaged in a continuing dialogue aimed at improving the mechanisms to tackle such issues in an international context. In January, at a meeting in UN Headquarters in New York, they discussed co-operation between IMO and the UN to combat Somalia-based piracy. Mr. Sekimizu and Mr. Ban met again, in private talks at IMO Headquarters, immediately prior to the London Conference.

Mr. Sekimizu underlined that capacity building in Somalia and neighbouring countries should be enhanced through co-operation between IMO and the UN, UN specialized agencies and other relevant international organizations, building on IMO’s existing capacity-building activities under the Djibouti Code of Conduct. IMO will continue with its own capacity-building programme in the region, in support of core objectives under IMO competence, for example the enhancement of maritime safety, the development of search and rescue facilities, and of maritime situational awareness capabilities.

Mr. Sekimizu further said, “Co-operation between and among States, regions and organizations holds the key for a lasting solution to Somalia’s problems. Piracy is a symptom; and, while a symptom can be treated and its effects can be alleviated, real progress can only be made by addressing the cause, which requires significant efforts of capacity building.”

Earlier this week, representatives from the shipping and insurance industries attending a meeting at IMO headquarters on counter-piracy topics issued a statement in which they welcomed the continued work of IMO, among others, and called on organisations to drive forward the counter piracy agenda and ensure effective coordination of international efforts.

Mr. Sekimizu went on to say: “While addressing the root-causes of piracy, we must not forget the seafarers currently held hostage by pirates. It is imperative that they are released and returned safe to their families.”

IMO itself is organizing a Counter-piracy Capacity-building Conference on 15 May at IMO Headquarters, from which tangible outcomes on the way forward are expected to emerge.

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