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Bahrain maritime festival focuses on international efforts to stop piracy

Experts say the global economy incurs an estimated $7–12 billion in losses annually due to piracy. Above is a picture of the Khalifa Bin Salman Port in Bahrain. [General Organization of Sea Ports/Al-Shorfa]

Experts say the global economy incurs an estimated $7–12 billion in losses annually due to piracy. Above is a picture of the Khalifa Bin Salman Port in Bahrain. [General Organization of Sea Ports/Al-Shorfa]

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Maritime experts say that 2010 was the busiest year in the past decade in terms of maritime piracy and armed robbery, with more than 250 recorded incidents, including armed robbery of ships and the kidnapping of dozens of sailors and fishermen.

Nicholas Charalambos, a member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and head of the Maritime Safety and Security Division at the Department of Commercial Maritime Shipping in Cyprus, told Al-Shorfa that while incidences of maritime piracy decreased between 2002 and 2005, it has been on the rise again since 2007 especially with regard to the abduction of ships and sailors.

Charalambos made the comments during this year's Bahrain Maritime Festival organized from September 26th – October 8th by the General Organization of Sea Ports. This year's theme was "Piracy, Orchestrating the Response".

The festival focused on creating a unified international stance to combat the negative effects of piracy on key sea-lines.

Charalambos said the east and west coast of Africa represents 44.5% of the total number of incidents recorded worldwide during 2010, as well as 54.9% during the first nine months of 2011.

He said areas of the east and west coast of Africa, such as the South China Sea, the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea, are still global hotspots for maritime piracy. He called for addressing armed robbery against ships there by intensifying regional and international efforts, especially by Coast Guards.

"What makes matters worse is that this negative phenomenon is moving to larger areas of the western Indian Ocean, making it a serious threat to main global shipping lines," he said.

According to Charalambos, the key to success in fighting piracy lies in ensuring the stability of Somalia through strengthening the rule of law and the Somali government on the ground.

Charalambos said a current priority of the IMO is ensuring the safety of sailors, fishermen and those travelling by sea along the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, as well as ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to the Somali people by protecting World Food Programme ships.

The general director of Bahrain's General Organisation of Sea Ports, Hassan al-Majid, said that as a result of piracy, the global economy incurs an estimated $7–12 billion in losses annually.

He said that Bahrain's General Organisation of Sea Ports has taken many necessary actions to counter this phenomenon, most notably allowing coalition forces operating in high risk marine areas to use Bahrain's National Data Centre of the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) System to track the course of Bahraini ships sailing in those regions.

In addition, a working group was formed at the level of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) to discuss allowing special armed teams on ships sailing in at-risk areas.

Al-Majid said that the organisation has circulated a booklet to all Bahraini ships on best management practices adopted by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which will help the captain and crew of the ship prevent pirates from approaching. The organisation also implemented the International Code for Security of Ships and Port Facilities for all ships flying the flag of Bahrain and all port facilities in the Kingdom.

Bahrain is a member of the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation. The Kingdom also signed the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.

Customs agent Ahmed Jassim said that maritime clearance procedures in Bahrain were safe from any money laundering or theft that might be described as "terrorist" or "piracy", at the same time stressing that the territorial waters of Bahrain and the Gulf in general were safe from any armed robberies.

"Bahrain recently launched the Education Fund for Maritime Navigation. It will help develop the maritime sector and ensure its continuity, and also increase awareness of the dangers of piracy among new generations of youth," Jassim said.

He pointed to the keenness of Bahrain to provide full security and safety for maritime navigation workers through its recently launched Sailors Centre at the new Khalifa Bin Salman Port. It serves as a rest stop for foreign sailors visiting or passing through the ports of Bahrain, providing necessary services and facilities.