Support for IMO Initiative on Somalia

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has welcomed the recent action taken by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to address the threat of piracy and armed robbery against ships off the coast of Somalia as both timely and appropriate and has stated his intention to raise the matter with members of the UN Security Council on his return to New York.

At a meeting in London today, IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, briefed Mr. Ban on the decision taken by the IMO Council, at a meeting in London last month, authorizing him to request Mr. Ban to bring the piracy situation off Somalia, once again, to the attention of the UN Security Council, for the latter to request the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to take action to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing of its coasts. Such action could include giving consent to naval ships or ships on Government service - as defined in Article 107 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - to enter the country's territorial waters when engaging in operations against pirates or suspected pirates and armed robbers endangering the safety of life at sea, in particular the safety of crews on board ships carrying, within the activities of the World Food Programme (WFP), humanitarian aid to Somalia or leaving Somali ports after having discharged their cargo.

In 2005, the number of reported attacks on ships off the coast of Somalia prompted the IMO Assembly to adopt a resolution, which first brought the matter to the attention of the UN Security Council. This action resulted in a UN Security Council Presidential Statement, issued in March 2006, encouraging UN Member States with naval vessels and military aircraft operating in international waters and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia to be vigilant for piracy incidents and to take appropriate action to protect merchant shipping, and in particular ships being used to transport humanitarian aid, against any such act, in line with relevant international law. Subsequently, there had been a much-welcomed reduction in acts of piracy and armed robbery in the region.

Nevertheless, the continuing civil conflict and political instability in Somalia has lately given rise to renewed attacks on ships and a worrying increase in the number of reported incidents - including attacks on ships chartered by WFP. As a consequence, IMO and WFP had issued a joint statement earlier this week expressing their concern over the current situation, in which the supply of much-needed humanitarian aid to the stricken African country is being hampered by pirates and armed robbers. Their actions not only threaten the safety of life of those serving or travelling on ships involved, but also jeopardize the prospects of bringing relief to hundreds of thousands of Somalis in a country that faces immense problems because of the political situation and recurrent natural disasters.

Mr. Mitropoulos took the opportunity to apprise Mr. Ban of IMO's efforts, in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to address the problem of migrants taking to the sea in overcrowded or sub-standard vessels. The two agencies have drawn up joint guidelines intended for masters, ship owners, government authorities, insurance companies, and other interested parties that may become involved in rescue situations. It provides guidance on relevant legal provisions, on practical procedures to ensure the prompt disembarkation of survivors of rescue operations, and on measures to meet their specific needs, particularly in the case of refugees and asylum-seekers. An inter-agency meeting, involving a number of other UN agencies and organizations is being organized for October of this year to take the matter forward.

Mr. Ban stressed the importance of the various UN agencies, programmes and funds to act in a coherent manner and deliver as one, as in the case of IMO and WFP working together on the piracy issue and IMO and UNHCR doing the same on the issue of undocumented migrants.

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