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President of Puntland's speech at Combating Piracy Week Conference

Speech of the President of Puntland State of Somalia
H.E. Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud (Farole)
Hanson Wade’s Combating Piracy Week Conference
Copthorne Tara Hotel, Kensington
London, United Kingdom
October 20, 2011

Working in Partnership to Defeat Piracy in Somalia

Excellencies, Honorable Speakers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to address this Combating Piracy Week Conference here in London. I wish to thank the organizers for inviting me to give the keynote address at this conference and the UK Government for hosting us. I also wish to thank the distinguished speakers, participants and audience at this conference.

I wish also to express my sympathy to the families of hostages taken by Somali pirates and to the global shipping industry, which faced unprecedented challenges because of Somalia-based pirate attacks.

Today, I will be speaking about a number of issues concerning the piracy problem in Somalia. Major topics I will briefly touch on include: the origins of Somali piracy; the impact of piracy in Puntland; our challenges in addressing this worldwide piracy phenomenon, particularly in our area; the expected international community’s role; and tackling piracy robustly and comprehensively in Somalia.

Brief account of Puntland

Allow me to share with you a brief account of Puntland State of Somalia for those who might be unfamiliar. The state was established in 1998 to form the foundation of a future federal system for Somalia. It covers a landmass of 212,000km sq., with around 1,300-km-long coastline along the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. As such, it is the location of Puntland that gives strategic value to Somalia as a whole.

Puntland’s geographic location makes the state particularly vulnerable to become a hunting area for pirates from across Somalia, as it located at the crossroads of international waterways. The state’s northern and eastern coastline consists of rocky area, valleys and mountains separating many coastal villages from each. This difficult terrain makes some coastal villages accessible only by sea.

How piracy began in Somalia

The political collapse of 1991 led to the complete breakdown of security institutions in Somalia, including the coastal defense. Somali coastal communities became victims of the Illegal Unreported Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), particularly in Puntland whose coastal community is traditionally known as Somalia’s fishermen.

The violation of Somali waters by foreign trawlers expectedly triggered a reaction of armed resistance by Somali fishermen, whose livelihoods was disrupted by the illegal fishing fleets. Over time, payment of ransom by the foreign trawlers to the poor fishermen of Somalia encouraged the escalation of pirate attacks to current levels. Consequently, the illegal fishers linked themselves with local warlords for protection, placing armed militiamen onboard the trawlers. The fishermen-turned-pirates then targeted unarmed commercial vessels, inhumanly taking hostages for ransom and disrupting international maritime trade routes. In addition to human suffering of the hostages, piracy activities in the region have impacted the cost of goods, as freight and insurance premiums increased. As the need for maritime security grew, the piracy problem has not yet been tackled.

Impact of piracy in Puntland

The cost of Somali piracy in Puntland impacted various sectors. This includes disruption of coastal economic activities, which historically constitutes an economic pillar for our communities and foreign exchange earnings from sea product export. Piracy has contributed towards insecurity, such as buying weapons and committing various crimes including killings. This led to enormous increase of the security costs of the State to mount extensive security operations against piracy activities in Puntland, as well as prison services and prosecution costs. Currently, our Government has in custody 242 convicted pirates and piracy suspects awaiting trial. According to U.N. data, this is the largest concentration of Somali pirates jailed in over 20 countries worldwide.

Despite our genuine efforts, the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) report of March 2010 published allegations and character assassination against the Puntland Government leadership. This defamatory report was prepared and influenced by a politically motivated foreign individual. This individual has a track history of writing anti-Puntland documents, favoring other Somali entities at the expense of Puntland. Because of his biased track history, we believe that this

individual lacks credibility and cannot be considered to play a neutral role in Somali affairs as a U.N. organization officer.

To make matters worse, piracy has spoiled our cultural values and created new social problems, such as introduction of alcohol, using drugs, and spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Piracy has also tarnished our image internationally, as Somalis are labeled as a piracy-prone society, although piracy activity is not exclusive to Somalis. The recent surge of piracy in West Africa, particularly Benin, demonstrates this point.

Since piracy’s inception in Somalia, the pirates have targeted mainly foreign commercial vessels expecting major ransom payments. However, in recent months, the Somali pirates have turned to hijack Somali-owned small vessels or vessels transporting goods to and from Somalia, including wooden dhows carrying livestock.
This unprecedented shift has signaled a new alarm. The Puntland Port of Bossaso is our economic lifeline and our gateway to global trade networks. We do not have any paved airports in Puntland for air transport. We have this single port that serves communities in the whole Somalia and also eastern Ethiopia. Any threat to this vital economic lifeline is a threat against the security, stability and economy of Puntland State of Somalia, which also impacts the smooth flow of trade traffic across the whole region.

Plans to overcome challenges

A major demographic change occurred since collapse of 1991, consisting of exodus of people fleeing southern Somalia particularly Mogadishu and Kismayo, leading to rapid urbanization of northern cities. Demand for public goods delivery and economic stability grew tremendously. Meeting such needs due to our limited resources, both financial capital and qualified human resource, proved to be a remarkable challenge to date.

Our challenges include instituting an anti-piracy force to combat pirates on land and along the coast. The physical nature of Puntland territory is also a big challenge, due to difficulties accessing pirate hideouts among valleys, mountains and a long coastline. Our attempt to establish a Puntland Maritime Police (PMP) force in 2010 has been met with some difficulties.

A new SEMG document, favoring other Somali entities, published a politicized report criticizing Puntland’s anti-piracy force, as the report aimed to mislead the international community’s opinion. Although our Government repeatedly invited the SEMG, the writers who drafted the report never visited Puntland, though UNODC officers and U.S. Senator Mark Kirk visited the PMP compound.

The anti-piracy force training program, supported by our benefactor, the United Arab Emirates, was suspended in February 2011. This program is designed to train Puntland marines to fight pirates on land and offshore. We plan to establish three strategically important coastal sites in Puntland as ideal locations to base anti-piracy forces to synchronize our onshore and offshore efforts to combat piracy, namely: 1) Bossaso port city along the Gulf of Aden coast; 2) Eyl town located along the Indian Ocean coast; and 3) Bargal town, located at the tip of the Horn of Africa (near Cape of Gardafui).

Other challenges include Puntland financial limitations to effectively engage the coastal communities at large for public awareness and implementing our newly launched anti-piracy rehabilitation program, involving community leaders. There is a need to engage in an unprecedented campaign by religious and community leaders and to create vocational training programs for skills-development for the youth and to rehabilitate quitting pirates.

Poor accessibility to coastal areas due to difficult terrain is a challenge to our security capability. Access to coastal communities can be improved through construction of feeder and paved roads, and jetties along the coast. This approach provides long-lasting solution to piracy problems as it creates job opportunities for unemployed youth.

There are cost-friendly options to solve the Somali piracy crisis. Puntland needs support for training and incentives for security forces, access to vehicles and equipment, is a strong alternative approach to tackling piracy. Support for prisons and judiciary capacity building are critical components of this approach. With a meager annual budget, Puntland Government has managed to increase the judiciary budget four-fold since 2009, demonstrating our commitment to security and justice.

International response

We believe that the cost of the international community’s response to Somali piracy does not commensurate with the expected results to eliminate the problem. A combined effort of international and local involvement should include empowering our security institutions and creating alternative livelihoods for those engaged in piracy. A pragmatic approach to tackle piracy includes community-oriented development programs.

UK Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, was absolutely correct when he recognized the “importance of the role of Somalia and its regions” in the fight against the piracy menace. In Puntland, we are very encouraged by the shift in thinking by Western governments, as voiced by the Honorable Minister Bellingham. The UK Government’s provision of £2million to community engagement and economic development projects for coastal regions is a great start aimed at addressing the underlying causes of piracy, primarily lack of employment opportunities and disruption of fishing industry. Funding such quick-impact projects, together with construction of prisons, will go a long way to address piracy at home in Somalia.

The impact of piracy on international stability and maritime trade is tremendous and growing, in addition to the regrettable suffering of hostages. The shipping industry and insurance companies have faced unprecedented challenges and worries and insurance premiums have skyrocketed. World governments have dispatched naval warships to face-off the Somali pirates, costing billions of dollars annually, by escorting vessels and taking deterrent actions at sea.

The warships from different countries will not singularly end the piracy phenomenon in Somalia. The pirates are becoming more violent and cunning, and they are increasingly using sophisticated technology, i.e. GPS satellite phones, and international connections, such as brokers, facilitators and ransom money transporters, to make their crime more damaging.

I believe that we can no longer afford to deny the international connections of Somali piracy. There are networks in many capitals that are connected through piracy proceeds. A few months ago, the world awoke to the surprising news of foreigners arrested in Mogadishu while transporting over 3million U.S. dollars in ransom cash to pirates.

The international community’s primary role should include supporting the restoration of accountable and effective governance institutions in Somalia. This is the prerequisite to stopping the piracy epidemic.

Puntland Government’s efforts to fight lawlessness, terrorism and piracy, despite tremendous challenges, is proof of our Government’s commitment to advancing the cause of peace, security, stability, democracy and development in Somalia.
Actions being taken to defeat piracy

Since my election in early 2009, Puntland has taken a unique combined approach to tackle the piracy problem. This includes strengthening our internal security and engaging local communities to lead a public awareness campaign to discourage new recruits and motivate pirates to quit. This approach of combined efforts has worked effectively to eradicate piracy from Eyl coastal town, which was once known as a piracy hub.

As noted earlier, we have apprehended hundreds of pirates and processed them through the judicial system. We have introduced a new Anti-Piracy Law and we have reformed the courts through capacity-building and increasing judiciary remuneration. Our security forces have raided pirate locations numerous times and seized vehicles and equipment, including speedboats, ladders, satellite telephones and weapons.

Puntland has rescued hijacked vessels transporting goods to Somalia four times, whereby we lost some of our security personnel and the pirates were brought to justice. In March, Puntland security forces were ambushed in a narrow valley stretching into a small bay connected to the Indian Ocean. Five soldiers were killed and others injured in that security operation to rescue a Danish family held hostage by pirates. It was later revealed to us that this group of pirates was associated to Al Shabaab terrorist group.

Again, this is a worrisome trend as growing ties between terrorists and pirates exasperate the threat to global security and stability.

Following our constant commitment and anti-piracy operations, the bulk of pirates shifted to central Somalia, beyond the reach of Puntland, but our location still constitutes the hunting area for Somali pirates.

In May 2010, Puntland Government appealed to the international community to transfer Somali pirates jailed in foreign countries to prisons in Somalia, conditional to upgraded correctional facilities. Consequently, on 18 April 2011, Puntland signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Seychelles Government at an anti-piracy conference held in Dubai to transfer Somali pirates jailed in Seychelles over to Puntland. We are indeed encouraged that many nations, including the UK, welcome piracy-transfer agreements as the “most sustainable solution.”

Finally, we believe that expensive naval patrols off the coast of Somalia will remain ineffective to eradicate piracy, as long as the world continues to neglect the domestic conditions that produce piracy. Without addressing such conditions, military action alone is not a panacea and is indeed a short-term remedy to effectively addressing the piracy problem. Notwithstanding, the costs and legal ramifications associated with piracy prosecutions in foreign countries is another obstacle. These are problems that could be overcome by pursuing a new comprehensive approach to tackling piracy in full partnership with Somalis.

We again urge the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of international navies operating off the Somali coast to engage in operations against pirates organizing around the coast, in cooperation with Somali authorities. Furthermore, we reiterate our firm position rejecting ransom payments as the primary factor fuelling piracy activities.
I thank you all for listening and for your participation at this important conference.

God bless.
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