Paper Presented by Warren Snowdon MP, on behalf of Stephen Smith, Minister for Defence to the Perth Counter-Piracy Conference


Thank you Peter Jennings for that introduction.

Thank you also to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute for supporting the Perth Counter-Piracy Conference. The background papers produced by ASPI should provoke interesting discussions over the course of the next two days.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen.

Australia is a country with significant Indian Ocean as well as Pacific interests. The security of the Indian Ocean and the waters beyond goes to the heart of Australia’s national interests, and indeed the interests of the region.

As the gateway to Australia for this region, our economic strength reflects our willingness and success in engaging with the fast-growing economies and major markets to our west.

Indian Ocean shipping routes are vital to Australia’s economic interests, particularly for the energy and resources that meet rising demand in the Middle East, India and China.

Over $130 billion of Australian trade passes through the High Risk Area in the Strait of Malacca in South East Asia annually. Another $50 billion of trade passes through the High Risk Area in the Horn of Africa to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The proportion of world energy supplies passing through critical transport choke points, including the Straits of Malacca, the Straits of Hormuz, and the Suez Canal will increase in the coming years.

Maritime security is indeed vital to the trade that underpins much of global economic growth. It matters across the world, and certainly for those countries represented at this Conference.

The economic benefits of international trade necessitate safe and secure sea lines of communication.

The international community is increasingly aware of the need to respond to the threat that maritime piracy poses to international trade.

This Conference will continue the international dialogue that is necessary to ensure a coordinated and effective international response.

For many participants at this Conference, our respective national security is linked closely to maritime security.  As well, our national economic prosperity is linked to the security and stability of the oceans, seas and straits.

Your deliberations will build on the forum Australia hosted on Indian Ocean Piracy in the margins of CHOGM in Perth in 2011 and the London Conference on Somalia in February this year.

Piracy – a regional and global challenge

Piracy has challenged maritime transport for hundreds of years, but has recently taken on a more modern and aggressive dimension in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

This Conference will address the global nature of what has emerged out of localised problems in South East Asia to significant challenges in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.

Piracy attacks have increased steadily in recent years. They involve theft, demands for large ransom payments, the taking of hostages and violent attacks that result in injury and death.

In 2011, there were 221 attacks against commercial vessels, as well as over 200 failed attempts.

International Maritime Bureau figures show 168 pirate attacks in the first six months of this year, with 19 commercial vessels highjacked.

Of that total, 67 piracy attacks took place off Somalia, included 13 highjackings and the taking of around 195 hostages. Today, many of these hostages remain under the captivity of pirates.

Recent trends in piracy have seen attacks on ships at further distances from the Somali coast and in areas to the North and East of the Horn of Africa. These trends make military intervention even the more challenging but also necessary.

There is also growing international concern that piracy attacks are increasingly violent.

Horn of Africa

While there has been some success in recent years in addressing a spike in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, we have witnessed the emergence of a significant piracy challenge in the Horn of Africa.

The significant international trade routes traversing the region, the large number of attacks, and the increasingly violent nature of these attacks has driven the international community to confront Somali piracy as a global issue.

Countering piracy in the Horn of Africa continues to be a complex and challenging task.

To address the root causes of piracy originating in Somali, the international community must assist Somalia to resolve its political and economic challenges. The efforts of the Somali Government to build its maritime security capabilities are an important step in the right direction.

Somali maritime forces have been assisted by international naval forces, including Australian Navy warships.

The Gulf of Guinea

The rise in the incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has emerged as a pressing problem. These attacks threaten the economic prosperity of West and Central African nations, with flow on affects for landlocked states.  The international community must support African states and institutions to respond to this problem before it develops further.

The increase in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea over the past two years has been alarming, particularly the well-organised, coordinated nature of attacks.

As an international community we have a responsibility to assist the countries affected in managing this problem with a well coordinated and integrated response not only at sea but on land as well.

In February this year the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2039, which expressed deep concern at piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, urged states of the region to act quickly and for international partners to provide support to regional patrols, and coordination centres. The Security Council also called for the implementation of a region-wide strategy. 

The African Union and the Gulf of Guinea Commission will convene a Summit later this year to develop a common maritime security strategy. Importantly, the Summit will look to develop a legal framework for the prosecution of persons involved in piracy.

On behalf of the Australian Government, I am pleased to announce that AusAID will offer scholarships for West and Central African countries to attend a course on Ocean Governance and Maritime Security at the University of Wollongong in November 2012. This builds on a similar program for East African countries.

South East Asia – highlighting the importance of coordination and dialogue

We need to keep momentum behind the growing and increasingly robust framework of international dialogue that underpins counter-piracy operations.

We know that piracy can be prevented.

I note the success in this region – particularly our neighbours Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – in making significant progress in combating piracy in the Malacca Strait.

Piracy in this region is now less prevalent, is opportunistic and usually involves petty theft.

This contrasts with the more coordinated and violent pirate attacks occurring recently in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, which have tended to target merchant vessels and off shore gas and oil industries.

While not all challenges can be fixed with the same solutions, there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of this region.

South East Asia has benefited greatly from regional cooperation, dialogue and information sharing.

The “Eyes in the Sky” initiative sees Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand conduct combined maritime air patrols over the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. This forms part of the Malacca Straits Security Initiative (MSSI), which has ensured maritime domain awareness over the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (or ReCAAP) has emerged as an effective body that ensures the sharing of crucial information across the region. 

The ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre has proven to be an effective long-term measure for preventing and monitoring acts of piracy.

Australia is already an active participant in regional mechanisms for dialogue, information sharing and coordination.

Australia co-chairs with Malaysia the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group on maritime security.

Australia contributes staff to Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre, which helps to collate, interpret and deliver actionable maritime security information.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, known as IOR-ARC, is the region’s largest grouping. Its interests are as diverse as its broad membership. Australia will assume the Chair of IOR-ARC for 2013 and 2014, having being Vice Chair to India for the period 2011 to 2012.

We will work closely with India and future Vice Chair Indonesia to ensure maritime security and piracy remain firmly on the IOR-ARC agenda.

Australia is a member of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an initiative of the Indian Navy. We are looking forward to hosting the Conclave of Chiefs Meeting here in Perth in 2014.

We have had some success in this region. The challenge now will be for the international community to ensure a coordinated and efficient approach that maximises the impact of disruption efforts against pirates.

I expect this Conference to contribute to this important coordination effort.

Broader counter-piracy efforts

It is important that regional architecture and international organisations deal with emerging challenges in the maritime domain, both traditional threats such as territorial disputes, but also emerging threats from piracy, terrorism and transnational crime.

The international community has recognised the need to deal with the problem of piracy. The United Nations, regional bodies, international organisations and individual states are all making important contributions.

I recognise the counter-piracy efforts of the African Union, East African and Indian Ocean States, the US-led Combined Maritime Force of 26 countries (to which Australia contributes), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Union, India, China, Japan, Korea and others.

Australia’s operational contribution

Australia is making a significant contribution to counter both the symptoms and causes of piracy, as well as improved regional dialogue and coordination.

In the Horn of Africa, the Royal Australian Navy contributes a frigate to the Combined Maritime Forces, which is flexibly cross-tasked between the counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and Gulf maritime security task forces.

Australia is a member of the United Nations Contact Group off the Coast of Somalia. We contribute to legal and operational working groups, and the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction group which helps to coordinate Combined Maritime Force, NATO and European Union counter-piracy efforts.

A member of the Australian Defence Force was recently seconded to the UN Office for West Africa to contribute to maritime security and counter-piracy capacity building.  We will seek to build on this foundation as we look for opportunities to use our experience in this region to help build maritime security capacity in West Africa.

Australia also seconds navy officers to the UK-led Maritime Trade Operations cell in Dubai, which provides liaison and coordination for ships travelling through the region.

We are seeing the gains of military operations. However, until we address the root causes of piracy, our work will need to continue.

Dealing with symptoms and causes

As we improve our capacity to intercept attempted acts of piracy with a military and policing response, the next challenge will be to address the causes of piracy and to implement an effective system to prosecute apprehended pirates.  We must work together to find such a solution.

Without seeking to oversimplify a complex problem, a lack of economic and employment opportunity, coupled with ineffective policing and judicial systems onshore are significant factors contributing to the growth of offshore piracy in some parts of the world.

Stabilising the situation in Somalia is a long-term task essential to efforts to reduce piracy in the Horn of Africa.

Legal frameworks

The international community must respond to piracy in the Horn of Africa by supporting nations in the region to establish legal and policy frameworks for preventing piracy and for detaining and prosecuting suspected pirates when their ventures are disrupted.

Australia recognises that regional states in the Horn of Africa require support and assistance to successfully prosecute alleged pirates.

Dealing with suspected pirates after detention is a significant challenge for international forces operating off the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations and a number of countries actively involved in countering piracy have started the important work of establishing legal frameworks for prosecuting suspected pirates once they are detained. This work is essential to building a strong deterrent to pirate activities.

The work of ReCAAP has played an important role in informing the development of the Djibouti Code of Conduct for information sharing, capacity building and training in the Horn of Africa.

Australia is playing a role in boosting the law and order response to piracy. Since 2009, Australia’s overseas development agency, AusAID, has provided $2.3 million to counter-piracy efforts including support totalling $1.8 million to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Counter-Piracy Programme, which provides rule of law assistance to Somalia, Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanzania and other states in the region.

Australia has also seconded three Australian Federal Police officers on separate secondments since 2009 to assist the UNODC Counter-Piracy Programme. This assistance is aimed at enhancing the capacity of the judicial systems in Somalia, Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanzania and other states in the region.


Kenya, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Somalia have made important progress in establishing processing facilities for suspected pirates.

In the margins of the London Conference on Somalia earlier this year, the Seychelles established the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution Intelligence and Coordination Centre and has signed a number of arrangements to support a prosecution framework for suspected pirates brought to the Seychelles by international partners. I commend the Seychelles for this important work.


The free movement of commercial shipping through international seas is of critical importance to security and economic interests of Australia, the countries of this region and beyond.

We should also bear in mind the human dimension of piracy, with mariners and sailors facing traumatic raids, kidnap, injury and murder.

Piracy is a complex problem with a long history. It is a challenge that the international community must join together to address. In this part of the world we have seen the benefits of close coordination, information and dialogue in reducing the prevalence and severity of pirate attacks. Vigilance will be required to ensure these gains are consolidated.

Piracy has recently taken on a more modern and aggressive dimension in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

I welcome regional and national contributions that provide an important security response resulting in disruption of many attempted acts of piracy.

I also commend the equally important efforts of countries that are working hard to address the causes of piracy and to establish legal frameworks and detention facilities as a powerful deterrent to pirates. The international community has an obligation to assist in their efforts.

Dialogue is essential to ensuring the international community develops long-term solutions to the causes of piracy and to ensuring international counter-piracy operations are as effective as possible. I wish you well for your deliberations here in Perth, which will form part of that ongoing dialogue.

Thank you.


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