Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Future of Combating Piracy

With its rich history as a seafaring nation, Oman has centuries of experience confronting maritime piracy. This heritage may prove useful in coming years, as it becomes increasingly clear that pirate attacks are not merely a past relic, but also a present-day menace – and one that is on the rise. Oman’s proximity to the main hub of modern pirate activity, the Gulf of Aden, has made piracy a particularly important issue for the Sultanate, as brought to prominence by a dramatic attack last summer in which Somali pirates armed with heavy weapons and night-vision goggles hijacked a German cargo vessel 60 miles off the coast of Sur, Oman. As Oman continues to develop its ports and shipping industries, and pirate gangs seek to expand their territorial reach, anti-piracy initiatives seem poised to be a key economic as well as national defense issue for the Sultanate going forward. The Sultanate has been proactive in addressing the threat of piracy. Last week, for example, when the Indian defense minister visited Oman to discuss defense matters with his Omani counterparts, discussion of piracy took center stage. According to reports in the Omani press, the two nations have agreed to conduct joint military exercises and to strengthen their cooperation to root out piracy in the region. As Oman and other nations in the region bolster their anti-piracy efforts, they may consider looking to the United States for ideas about one promising future avenue for fighting piracy: cutting off the pirates’ funding. On April 13, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order declaring maritime piracy to be a threat to the security of the United States, and authorizing the freezing of U.S. funds or property of persons determined to be supporting designated individuals associated with piracy. This Executive Order represents a very early step for U.S. anti-piracy efforts; it now falls to the U.S. Treasury Department to draft regulations implementing what the Executive Order broadly outlines. The regulations are expected to prohibit banks and insurers that have a U.S. presence from processing ransom payments to pirates affiliated with the individuals named in the order. This approach from the United States does present an interesting idea: perhaps the future of combating piracy lies not just in warding pirates off with gunboats, but in seizing their treasure chest. The more difficult it becomes for pirates to receive and transfer funds, the more difficult it will be for them to operate. Such measures by themselves may not be enough to root out piracy, but jamming the pirates’ financial machinery may help to slow them down. Anti-piracy financial restrictions will naturally be more effective the more broad-based they are, for example if they are formulated and implemented as part of a multi-lateral international effort. With the threat of maritime piracy continuing to grow throughout the region, we are likely to see increased international cooperation on anti-piracy initiatives. As these efforts progress, Oman, its neighbors in the region, and the rest of the global community may wish to look to the U.S. example of blocking pirates’ access to financial institutions as one potential weapon in the ongoing fight against piracy.