The fight against sea-based crimes has received a major boost after Somalia joined the list of states that have committed to restrict movement of suspected ships and individuals.
Somalia — long considered the natural haven of Indian Ocean pirates — from November 4 became the 14th signatory to the Jeddah Amendment to the Djibouti Code of Conduct.
In a statement, the International Maritime Organisation secretariat said Somalia’s minister of Marine Transport and Ports, Mariam Aweis, deposited the instrument at its London headquarters on December 1.
Somalia joins Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Jordan, Madagascar, Maldives and Mozambique which had earlier signed the Code. Other signatories are Saudi Arabia, Seychelles United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The signatories will share information, intercept ships suspected of engaging sea-based crimes and apprehend (and prosecute) suspects.
The entry of Somalia is particularly of interest to Eastern Africa shippers because piracy is seen as one of the offshoots of its many outlawed groups.
The Djibouti Code of Conduct was itself developed as an instrument for repressing piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden regions.
It is set to take effect barely 10 months after 18 states amended the Djibouti Code in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in January 2017 to widen its scope.
The changes expanded the instrument to cover piracy, arms trafficking, trafficking in narcotics and illegal trade in wildlife. It also covers illegal oil bunkering, crude oil theft, human trafficking, human smuggling and illegal dumping of toxic waste.
The countries which have signed the Code are supposed to cooperate “to the fullest possible extent” to repress transnational organised maritime crime.
Kenya – and other East African signatories – however have the immediate interest in the instrument’s ability to suppress piracy. More than 85 per cent of Kenya’s Sh2 trillion trade is conducted by sea.
Last year Kenya imported goods worth Sh1.4 trillion and exported Sh581 billion. The country imports both the finished goods and industrial inputs.
A consumer in Kenya has had, for instance, to bear the burden of sea-based crime as ships pass on extra costs incurred via longer freight routes and increased insurance premiums.
Ships have also been forced to hire private security firms to provide onboard services at an average cost of Sh2.3 million ($21,700) per month, raising cost of freight.
Kenya, one of the African states that has contributed troops for the UN’s African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) also believes it loses at least Sh10 billion annually to trawlers which engage in deep sea’s illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
While they generally welcome the signing of the Djibouti Code, observers say Somalia still has a lot of unfinished business on its table.
Only last month, the 15-member UN Security Council adopted a resolution asking Somali authorities to continue passing comprehensive anti-piracy laws to boost the international fight against sea-based crimes.
The resolution also asked the war-torn state to establish security agencies to enforce the laws and to strengthen the capacity of its courts to prosecute pirates.
The Security Council also want Somalia to enact a piece of legislation allowing its agencies to facilitate prosecution of suspected pirates off its Coast.
In October, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a division of the International Chamber of Commerce that tracks crimes on the oceans, raised the alarm on lack of rules for private security firms being hired by vessels to keep pirates at bay.
“If the activities of these armed maritime security teams continue to be largely ungoverned, the actions of some unaccountable actors could increase incidents of violence at sea and possibly hinder efforts to pursue sustainable rule of law solutions to maritime criminality,” says Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), an American non-profit organisation that tracks criminality in the high seas.