SA Navy chief Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu has called on African countries to invest more in protecting their seas from piracy.
Speaking at the four-day maritime security conference in Cape Town that ended at the weekend, Mudimu urged the governments of Indian Ocean countries to invest in their navies, equipping them so they have the ships and equipment necessary to patrol the “length and breadth of their territorial waters”.
“We are trying to use resources to bring stability on the Indian Ocean. Governments need to promote the training of our officers, both on land and at sea, because pirates can disguise themselves as fishermen on land and at sea,” he said.
Last year Mudimu proposed a maritime security strategy and action plan that called on Southern Africa Development Community countries to help their navies work together to overcome piracy. SADC’s justice committee is looking at what legislation would be required to get member countries to beef up their navies.
The third Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, was attended by nearly 500 navy delegates from 38 countries.
The conference, which began last Wednesday, and has been held every second year since its inception in New Delhi in 2008, aims to enhance maritime security.
This year’s theme was building partnerships and sharing information among navies to clamp down on piracy.
“To address maritime security, adjustments need to be made in the international framework that hampers us from dealing with maritime security. A way forward can only succeed if there is a mutual trust and agreement among symposium members,” Mudimu said.
He said if African countries co-operated, they would be able to deal with piracy.
“If we want to achieve results we need to trust each other in disseminating information. One of the fundamentals we need to get right is the ability to share information. There are a number of countries that are already doing this, like Singapore and India, Singapore and Italy and Singapore with Brazil,” said Mudimu.
African countries must establish a system for information sharing, he said.
According to the International Maritime Organisation, piracy imposes on the shipping industry and costs the global economy between $7 billion (R55bn) and $12bn every year.
Apart from losses to the global economy, seafarers bear the brunt of pirate crimes.
The organisation’s figures show that in 2010, 4 185 seafarers were attacked by pirates using firearms – including rocket-propelled grenades – 1 090 were taken hostage, and 516 were used as human shields.
Earlier at the conference Captain King Chiragi, of the Tanzanian navy, said identifying pirates was like looking for a “needle in a haystack”.
“Pirates pose as fishermen and therefore you could come across them, but not be able to identify them. There are many fishing vessels on the seas,” he said.
Iranian navy Rear-Admiral Habibollah Sayari said the symposium should set up a special work group to investigate the reasons for insecurity in Indian Ocean regions and seek solutions.