05/14/2014 12:03 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2014

No Time for Complacency on Piracy


In 2011, 176 ships were attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Twenty-five of these attacks were successful.

In 2013, seven ships were attacked, but no attack was successful.

It is clear that the international fight against piracy is producing results. Yet there is no room for complacency: 49 innocent seafarers are still being held hostage by pirates. Some have been held in captivity for over 1,000 days.

There is also evidence that the piracy business model has been fractured. However, it is far from broken yet.

And the root causes of piracy need to be addressed: while the symptoms occur at sea, the origin of the problem is on land. Piracy remains a complex issue fueled by weak rule of law, instability and poverty.

So the counter-piracy effort of the international community must continue. This week the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia meets under the chairmanship of the European Union for its sixteenth plenary session at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The Contact Group on Piracy -- created in 2009 -- brings together all stakeholders, public and private, that are affected by Somali-based piracy. It is a unique and inclusive construct that represents a new international governance model for truly comprehensive approaches to complex problems. It welcomes those who are willing and able to contribute to solutions to piracy, including humanitarian organizations, academics and private citizens.

This is made possible by the fact that the fight against piracy generates unanimity of opinion. Piracy is bad -- everywhere, at all times, and under all circumstances. There is no ideological support for pirates, and no sympathy anywhere for what is essentially a criminal enterprise.

Piracy affects -- and counter piracy actions must involve -- governments, international organizations, private enterprise, community-based civil society, humanitarian organizations, law enforcement and intelligence organizations.

As there is no natural home for collaboration among such a diverse constellation of actors, so we -- the international community -- created one. Having met in plenary more than a dozen times at the United Nations, the Contact Group works closely with the UN but is not of the UN.

The Contact Group, over time, has earned political legitimacy without any real structural formality. There is no formal structure, no rigid protocol, no standing infrastructure or institutional overhead. We have no budget, no secretariat and frankly, we can bank on a great degree of informality. It works because it is based on mutual interest and trust. Relationships matter, and working together over time has created understanding and synergy.

The European Union was present at the foundation of the Contact Group and has played a very important role in its activities and evolution since 2009. It 2014 it took over the chairmanship of the Contact Group from the U.S.

The EU is currently running three operations in the Horn of Africa under its Common Security and Defence Policy. The naval operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta has played a leading role in counter piracy since 2009. The EU also contributes to building the maritime capacity of Somalia and the countries of the region through its civilian EUCAP Nestor mission. In early April, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, engaged with her African counterparts on strengthening cooperation and supporting joint work to increase maritime security on Africa's coasts.

Through the EU training mission in Somalia, the EU has trained more than 3000 Somali soldiers and provides strategic advice to the Somalian armed forces in Mogadishu. While this contributes to reinstating the rule of law on land, it is equally important to focus on the development of coastal communities, creating livelihoods and offering opportunities to young people.

A comprehensive approach linking political, security and development efforts in close cooperation with the countries from the region must remain at the heart of the success of counter-piracy action off the coasts of Somalia. There has been good progress, but the results achieved still need to be consolidated.