The migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea in many was has similarities to Somali piracy in that it calls for concerted action and improved information sharing across national, civil-military and public-private divides. How important the lessons from piracy are in this regards became clear at a recent multi-agency meeting convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The High-Level Meeting to Address Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea was held in London on March, the 4th, 2015. Outcome of the meeting attended by various UN agencies, governments and the shipping industry was to agree on a mechanism for coordination and information-sharing. Several speakers, including Bernd Hemingway, European director of the International Organization for Migration, and Peter Hinchliffe, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, stressed that the CGPCS and the coordination mechanisms such as SHADE and Mercury could provide useful ideas of how to handle the challenge. According to IHS360, Hemingway, said,
“When the economic interests in combating piracy became apparent, the tools were found to combat it. That’s the entry point with governments.”
The paralells to piracy were also stressed by the IMO secretary general Mr. Koji Sekimizu. As he clarified in his closing remarks in contrast to piracy, this time IMO wants to take a lead role:
The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia that was formed in the beginning of 2009 generated the interest of Governments and maintained the willingness and determination of international community to take action against Somali piracy. In order to take effective concerted action to the problem at hand in the Mediterranean, we also need a forum of Governments, UN agencies and industry. I hope that IMO can provide such an opportunity and perform such a function as the forum to facilitate forming concerted efforts of the international community, in particular for the maritime phase of the problem we are facing in the Mediterranean. I do not think we need another Contact Group because IMO can do the exact function of that group for the Mediterranean issues, together with Member Governments.
Whether and how the IMO could perform such a role remains to be seen. The lesson from the CGPCS is that coordination and information-sharing is best facilitated through an informal and flexible forum which can recurrently adapt to the changing situation and experiment with new ideas. A coordination mechanism within the IMO system, which is a after all heavily rule-based and bureaucratic system, hence, appears hence less promising. Yet, in order to work the CGPCS required strong leadership. If Sekimizu’s remark is meant to indicate that the IMO secretariat will take leadership on the issue and chair a newly created forum, than the international community is certainly on the right track. The IMO could act as an honest broker. Yet, whether it has as an UN agency the resources and capacities that governments or the EU Commission could provide in order to perform this role, is an open question.
The full documentation of the meeting is available on the IMO website. For further information and press coverage of the event see here.