Somalia private coastguard spat and the fight against piracy.

The Federal Government of Somalia’s decision to create a coastguard to combat piracy and maintain maritime security by outsourcing the role to a private security firm have hit controversy with other autonomous states in the war torn country.

Both Somaliland and Puntland hit out at the move announced a week by the internationally backed federal government saying it infringed on their sovereignty.

A week ago it was reported that the Federal Government of Somalia’s Defence Ministry had signed a deal with Dutch private maritime security provider Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to establish a coast guard to combat piracy and patrol and secure Somalia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). According to the deal, the Dutch firm will “build, maintain and operate the coastguard fleet,” which will include “long-range patrol vessels, equipped with high speed intervention vessels,” as well as provide training.

The move by the central government to try and take greater control over the country’s waters was a clearly unwelcome for the governments of the two states in control of much of the north of Somalia.

Puntland State’s Minister Maritime Transport, Ports and Counter Piracy, Hon Saeed Mohamed Rageh,
 described the contract as “unacceptable, inapplicable and unsuitable in Puntland State”. “This agreement clearly undermines the Regional Somali States (Kampala Process Members) efforts of maintaining Somali Sovereignty and control over its territorial waters.”

The director general in Somaliland Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Hon Mohamed Elmi Aden offered a similar warning: “I strongly advise Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to stay clear of involvement in Somaliland territorial waters and the company should stick to its operation in Somalia waters anything short of that will be seen as infringing on our national boundaries and territorial sovereignty”.

The rejection by Puntland is particularly relevant when it comes to combating piracy as the pirate bases are located in coastal towns such as Eyl and Hobyo that come under the control of the government of Puntland. As of the end of June Somali pirates continued to hold 57 seafarers hostage.

Two days after roundly rejecting the coast guard development Puntland has now severed all ties with the Federal Government.

While the number of successful pirate attacks off Somalia has dropped to its lowest level since 2006, experts continue to warn that without a continued military presence to protect shipping the scourge could easily resurge. The success in combating piracy has been largely credited to the international naval taskforce and the deployment of private armed security onboard vessels by many shipowners and managers.

The latest developments between Puntland, Somaliland and the Federal Government of Somalia clearly underline the country is still a long way from having a fully functioning central government. As long as that situation remains the possibility of a resurgence of piracy is very real one and shipping industry and international governments cannot afford to let their guard down.

By Marcus Hand from Singapore.



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