Maldives included in United Nations’ US$2 million anti-piracy project

United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy has approved a US$2 million package of projects for affected nations, including the Maldives.

The aim of the five projects, approved April 30, is to ensure ongoing piracy trials are conducted in a fair and efficient manner and that the human rights, health and safety of individuals suspected of piracy are protected. This includes facilitating the repatriation of detainees suspected of piracy from the Maldives to Somalia.

Other initiatives involve providing support to law enforcement authorities and prosecutors in “front-line States” to investigate illicit financial flows from piracy. Biometrics-based fishermen database systems will also be implemented to support monitoring and surveillance of fisheries resources, while also providing important information to counter-piracy forces. Projects have been approved for Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, and the Maldives.

United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun acknowledged the gains made in controlling piracy, but stressed that the international community “should not be under any illusion that piracy has been conclusively brought under control” during the announcement of the projects in New York.

“The dramatic decline in pirate attacks is clear evidence of years of hard work by United Nations Member States, international and regional organizations, and actors in the shipping industry,” said Zerihoun.

“The international community should continue to support the efforts of Somalia and States in the region to strengthen their maritime law enforcement capacities and their rule of law sector.

“With the Trust Fund’s resources largely spent, now is the time to replenish the Fund to bridge critical gaps in counter-piracy efforts,” he added.

The United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy was established in 2010 and have received approximately US$17 million in contributions from member states and the maritime industry. The funds have been used for 31 projects, totalling approximately US$16 million, and “short-term needs related to unforeseen expenditures”.

The purpose of the trust fund is to “defray expenses” associated with prosecuting suspected pirates and undertaking other activities to fight piracy.

The trust fund’s Board is comprised of 10 voting member States – Germany, Italy, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Norway, Qatar, Seychelles, Somalia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom – and three non-voting entities, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

Piracy threat

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

Due to increasing pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and the frequent encounters with Somali castaways in Maldivian territory, maritime experts have speculated that the piracy threat is growing in Maldives.

“We are very concerned about piracy in the Maldives since we are located in the Indian Ocean, one of the major areas [at risk],” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News today (May 6).

“The Maldives has already raised these issues with international organisations and international media,” he added.

Ali confirmed that although recent joint military exercises with neighboring SAARC countries, such as India and Pakistan, were not solely for anti-piracy purposes, that issue was included.

“We are seeking protection [from pirate attacks] from SAARC countries,” said Ali.

In an effort to address the growing threat of piracy and rising concerns over the security within Maldivian territorial waters and the wider Indian Ocean, the Government proposed an anti-Piracy bill in January 2013.

The stated purpose of the bill is to establish a legal framework to deal with piracy within the territorial waters of the Maldives amidst concerns at the growing risk of maritime crime in the Indian Ocean over the last few years.

The bill also seeks to outline legal procedures to deal with individuals suspected of committing acts of piracy within Maldivian territorial waters, give that such procedures do not presently exist in the country’s legal system.

Pirate attacks

The Maldives experienced the first confirmed case of piracy within its waters back in March 2012, when a Bolivian-flagged vessel headed for Iran was hijacked by Somali pirates. The vessel was released a few days later.

The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.

In March 2012, 40 Somali castaways in the custody of Maldives authorities refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

“Some of the Somali refugees are not in the Maldives. I can’t say exactly how many have been repatriated. The process has been ongoing. The Home Ministry and so many others are involved,” explained Ali.

In January 2012, an American luxury passenger line en route to the Seychelles was stranded in the Maldivian waters due to an alleged “piracy risk”, while the passengers departed to the Seychelles through airline flights.