With the 20th plenary the CGPCS has successfully consolidated its work and reconfirmed its position as the institution where global responses to piracy in the Western Indian Ocean are coordinated. The CGPCS continues to fill a major gap in the global maritime security architecture and provides a function that no other institution can. The piracy incidents occurring in 2017 have demonstrated why the CGPCS is still required and reconfirm why it must continue its vital work.
The revival of the Working Group on Operations at Sea tasked to evaluate the threats and risks to shipping was an important reaction to the current spike in piracy. It will be a priority for the incoming chairmanship to ensure that the working group meets as soon as possible and that it receives full support from those conducting threat and risk analyses, whether naval operations, the industry, non-governmental organisations such as Oceans Beyond Piracy, or academia.
One of the main functions of the CGPCS has been to ensure that information is shared between actors engaged in counter-piracy. Efficient communication between all actors is vital for coordination. But it is also important that the international community sends a strong and unified message to potential perpetrators. These are the two challenges that the future communication strategy of the CGPCS will need to address. They imply revising the website, newsletter and other internal communication tools, and identifying a mechanism to harmonise and coordinate the communication practices of actors like EUNAVFOR, FAO, UNODC and others. A strong message can be an important tool to deter Somalis from engaging in piracy.
Over the past four years the CGPCS has also become an important site where the relations between piracy and other maritime security issues are debated. While the mandate that the CGPCS has given itself remains focussed on piracy, it is common wisdom that maritime threats reinforce one another and that in particular, capacity building activities cannot focus on piracy alone, but must keep wider maritime insecurities on their radar. The 2017 Jeddah Amendments to the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) forcefully highlight these inter-connections, as do international capacity building projects whose scope extends significantly beyond piracy, such as the EU operations EUCAP Somalia and EU Crimario, or the UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme. The incoming chairmanship must continue to strengthen and promote the discussion concerning the inter-linkages between piracy and other sources of maritime insecurity. This does not imply changing the mandate of the group, whose strength has always been its narrow focus on piracy. Rather, it is to ensure the flow of information and the alignment of work between those actors exclusively addressing piracy and those focussed on broader maritime security issues.
The success of the two-year chairmanship of the Government of Seychelles has confirmed that regional actors can successfully master the work that this role entails. The decision taken at the 20th plenary that future chairs should come from the region and that the IOC will continue the work of Seychelles was a clear confirmation of that success. Continuing the regionalisation path, by ensuring that it is countries from the Western Indian Ocean that take ultimate responsibility for their regional waters, must form part of the future agenda. The new chair should advocate that regional countries remain active, or become more active. While regional countries must be in the lead, however, they do require support from the international community. It is important to emphasise that regionalisation cannot imply a withdrawal of international actors. Protecting trade and safeguarding freedom of navigation is, after all, a global task. This also implies the need for strong dialogue with the shipping industry.
Since its creation, one of the strengths of the CGPCS has been its flexibility and its ability to revise its working methods and configurations as the situation demands. While a working routine has been established over the years, it remains important to adapt and reform the CGPCS and its sub-groups as needs change and new needs arise. This implies working with the principle of subsidiarity and continuously asking what kind of body would best address a distinct coordination challenge. Transferring responsibility for the coordination of capacity building in Somalia to the Somali MSCC was an example of such a move. In a similar fashion, the incoming chair should raise the question of whether regional capacity building is better coordinated by another body, whether this is the DCoC, the MASE programme, or even the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Regional maritime security capacity building continues to suffer from duplication and overlap. In particular, work conducted within the frameworks of DCoC and MASE is not well coordinated, and bi-lateral and multi-lateral initiatives remain poorly aligned.
Maintaining the CGPCS as an informal, flexible and agile mechanism will also require an on-going strategic debate regarding the group’s long-term scenarios. The incoming chairmanship will need to prevent this debate from consuming the future working agenda, since it is only one challenge in a series of others. Yet, it remains important to ask which aspects of the work of the CGPCS can be transferred to other regional bodies, such as the DCoC, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, the Indian Ocean Maritime Crime Forum, or any newly created group for the Western Indian Ocean. It also means considering the position of the CGPCS within the global maritime security architecture. In the long run, will a contact group on global piracy be consistent with international needs, or is an international maritime security group for the Western Indian Ocean a better direction of travel?
Christian Bueger is Professor of International Relations at Cardiff University and Honorary Professor at the University of Seychelles. He is one of the principal investigators of the Lessons Learned Project of the CGPCS and editor of the www.lessonsfrompiracy.net website. Further information is available at http://bueger.info