In the fight against Somali piracy, we’ve always been against the arming of merchant ships. Not only is it fraught with risks. It also creates a war-like atmosphere for international shipping commerce, a throwback to the age of buccaneers and freebooters. BIMCO itself, the largest of the shipping associations, is against the idea. The only ones who seem to clamor for the move are gung-ho types such as ex-US Navy men, private security services and exasperated ship owners who can afford the latter.

BIMCO has once again reiterated its position. In “Reflections 2011“, a summary of major shipping trends and issues, it says it will “continue to speak out strongly against the use of privately contracted armed security guards on vessels”. In lieu thereof, it makes a case for the more palatable Convey Escort Programme (CEP). “It may well be,” BIMCO notes, “that the concept of CEP being run by a private company under strict tactical control of military and thus governments, but facilitated by the insurance industry, has more merit than is currently accepted.”

As BIMCO acknowledges, the CEP may be problematic in light of the “safe innocent passage” enshrined in UNCLOS. Even so, the group believes that the project “if handled correctly, may provide an interim capacity building solution, helping to meet the Coast Guard capacity needed to effectively control the Somali coastline.” It then enumerates the conditions in which the scheme may work – including placing the CEP under one flag state authority with rules of engagement common to the military and flag state.

BIMCO has hit the nail on the head: “The conundrum is to work out how we involve all stakeholders when many see potential solutions either disruptive to business or too costly; especially when many perceive that only governments can resolve the problem, whilst governments hide behind the excuse that the only real solution can be found ashore.” Conundrum – what an apt choice of word. It means a problem that is difficult, paradoxical or even insoluble.

Is Somali piracy here to stay then? BIMCO says the key to defeating piracy – “a robust and legitimate legal system with prisons and a coastguard” – does not look “remotely likely” for at least another couple of years. Alas, the one solution that could end the problem once and for all isn’t on the table. That is, go straight to the pirates’ lairs and dismantle their infrastructure. This means war, which we reject since we hate war with the same passion as the Dalai Lama.

What a conundrum, made worse by the continuing debate over strategies and the ifs and buts from BIMCO itself. It’s as though the shipping world were dancing the fandango in the midst of war. Unless this stops, we’ll see no end to Somali piracy in the next 15 years. Or even twenty. ~Barista Uno

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