The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) said it has not detected increased threats to the country’s territorial waters from piracy despite UN concerns over the growing attacks within the Indian Ocean.
MNDF Major Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that despite small vessels originating from Somalia washing up in the Maldives’ territorial waters – often with engineering problems – no reported attacks or activities linked to piracy were believed to have occurred in the country. Raheem conceded that potential pirate threats remained a “major problem” in ensuring the security of the archipelago, which depends on tourism for as much as 90 percent of its economy.
The comments were made as the UN Security Council yesterday reportedly raised fears that growing numbers of pirate vessels originating from Somalia were attacking ships within the Indian Ocean. The council members claimed that tougher international sanctions would be required to punish suspected pirates.
Raheem said that despite the serious concerns raised over potential piracy attacks in the Maldives, the MNDF would continue with existing initiatives to try and protect its waters in collaboration with naval forces from other nations like India, Turkey and the US, who have all taken part in patrols across the country.
“Piracy is seen as a major problem in the Maldives and we are very concerned about possible attacks occurring in our waters,” he said. “However, we have not recognised piracy threats flaring up [around the Maldives]. With help from other nations, particularly India, we are continuing patrols.”
Concluding the first ever official visit of its forces to the Maldives last month, the Turkish navy told Minivan News that it was visiting the country as part of wider regional anti-piracy initiatives supported by the NATO military alliance.
A naval spokesperson at the time said that the visit of the TCG Giresun to the Maldives was not linked to any specific threat or incident of piracy, but more a reaction to Somali pirates extending their operations from the Horn of Africa further into territories around the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
“We are trying to promote understanding to fight piracy, so one way to do this is to visit ports like Male’,” said the spokesperson at a media briefing during the ship’s visit. “The attacks of the pirates have widened into the Indian Ocean with one of the last incidents occurring approximately 250 nautical miles away from the shores of Male’, so NATO has widened the number of ports we are to visit to include Indian Ocean destinations like Mumbai and Male’.”
The MNDF confirmed that it received reports of small boats – believed to be Somali in origin – arriving into the Maldives’ territorial waters.
However, Major Raheem said that the people discovered on board the boats were not confirmed to be pirates and were as likely to be refugees that had become lost at sea and drifted into the country. “We have observed some small boats drifting into our territorial waters often due to engineering problems,” he added.
While local security forces suggest the Maldives is not directly coming under attack from pirates, according to a report by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, 171 pirate attacks have been recorded this year by the UN as occurring off the coast of Somalia.
During the UN Security Council debate held yesterday, new international legislation relating to establishing international piracy courts to try suspected pirates were being discussed to try and combat concerns about attacks.
Speaking during the debate, the AFP cited India’s UN envoy, Hardeep Singh Puri, as raising concerns about the dangers posed to South Asian nations from pirate attacks. The debate included establishing special jails in the Somali autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland to hold convicted pirates.
Experts suggest that a growing number of Somali pirates are moving deeper into the Indian Ocean towards the Maldives as they come under increased pressure from international task-forces sent to limit piracy around the horn of Africa.
As a result of this movement, maritime security has become a notable security concern for the Maldives, even around the country’s secluded resort properties.