It must be said, judging from the determination displayed, they will. Digital Journal attended the conference, which ended on Friday. The symposium is considered to be of key importance in coordinating the fight against pirates, as well as other criminals, such as polluters and those involved in the smuggling of human beings.
On the diplomatic front, such meetings of the commanders, or “chiefs” of navies are considered to be just below the importance of the UN. Rear Admiral Robert “Rusty” Higgs told me in an informal talk on the sidelines of the symposium that for example, the International Seapower Symposium (ISS)
held every two years at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, had as much importance in diplomatic terms as a meeting of the UN. He pointed to the fact that the top commanders of the world’s naval forces could talk about practical matters without being distracted by politics.
This determination to get things done was palpable throughout the three days and the opening evening of IONS. The German Navy trains regularly with the South African Navy, in a joint exercise series held biennially codenamed “Good Hope”. The recently-held Exercise Good Hope V was used as a test of the two navies’ counter-piracy abilities. I asked what Germany got out of the training:
“I think we get a lot out of it because nowadays we have global challenges so we have to go for good co-operations and co-operative solutions.”
I also asked about Germany, which is not an Indian Ocean country, attending IONS (as an observer nation). He said:
“What we now experience; the Indian Ocean has its own challenges like piracy; organised crime and more and there is a good co-operation and I think all the nations involved in insuring security in this region should co-operate in a certain way.
This year, more or less (during Exercise) Good Hope number V, that we developed a sort-of concept for counter-piracy. Because it’s an issue not only in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, it is an issue more and more around the African Continent.
The dapper admiral added:
“And we get something out of it, of course! Because sharing ideas, sharing common approaches, sharing solutions to real challenges is always an added value. “
I was fortunate to find the former chairman of IONS and the newly-announced one together. I first asked the new chairman, the first one from Africa, Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Mudimu, whether he believed piracy could be beaten:
“Definitely! This being the third (IONS), and many initiatives all focus on saying how to dominate the oceans, how do we occupy the space? Because if we don’t occupy the space we’ll have a problem.
“We are also mindful of the fact that the problem can not be solved at sea alone. This is an issue that must be resolved on land on the political level. So with that multi-pronged approach, piracy can be defeated.”
“If the sea lines of communication are disrupted, that will impact negatively -- as we are currently seeing -- that the spread and the increase of pirate activity, primarily off the Somalian coast disrupts trade among the countries. That’s why the new thinking is how do we improve the security among the commercial vessels themselves? People are coming out with different motions on how we should do this, because of the importance of the sea.”
Outgoing chairman, Staff Naval Brigadier Ibrahim Al Musharakh of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) referred with pride to the importance of the Indian Ocean and the role his people had played in the past, as well as the present:
“It has always been important historically. This ocean has always had routes connecting East to West (and) now it is a major medium for energy transfer.”
Was he referring to oil, I wondered:
“Absolutely! Oil and other minerals and there are waterways within the Indian Ocean that have significant importance.”
“Arabian Sea, the Choke Points the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Cape, all these places.”
While both men were hopeful the crisis would eventually be overcome, they stressed the need for hard professional work among naval officers including action plans that would “concretise all the issues” at IONS and other similar forums.
Some of the sessions were quite technical and it was amazing to see just how closely ships could be followed on radar and satellites as well as radio transponder technology. Captain King Chiragi, Tanzania’s Director of Maritime Safety and Security, highlighted the importance of MDCCs, that is, Maritime Search and Rescue Coordinating Centres, which rely on, among other systems, Automatic Information System (AIS) as well as Long Range Identification and Tracking System (LRIT) and of course, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
I found it pretty complex, too!
21 Countries share piracy information from the regional MRCCs in East Africa and Yemen. Since 2010, 30 incidents of piracy have been reported in to the Dar es Salaam centre in Tanzania and three pirate attacks were foiled as a result of the speedy receipt, interpretation and dissemination of the information.
Despite all the high tech, pirates using small wooden Arab dhows and even smaller (3 or 4 meter) or nine to 12 foot long skiffs made of fibreglass, do not show up on radar, Captain Karl Otto of the South African Safety Authority (SAMSA) told me. What LRIT operators try to do, he explained, was to check which ships were also showing up on radar, then try to observe the ones which were non-compliant.
Most reports of pirate actions came from the ships themselves, but some came from intelligence sources.
Delegates to IONS expressed the view that the counter-piracy operation very simply could not fail. In his speech at the pre-conference cocktail party, South Africa’s Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Refiloe Mudimu summed it up like this:
“We want to re-write the history that is written by the pirates. The pirates must not author a chapter in the history of humankind. The navies of the world must continue to change that history.”