Big challenges for small nations: tackling piracy in the Commonwealth

The Seychelles estimates that it has lost more than four percent of GDP to piracy from Somalia, sparking renewed calls for united international action against this growing maritime threat

MPs and speakers from 30 of the Commonwealth’s smallest island states and jurisdictions, met during a two-day conference in London over the weekend to identify the unique risks and dangers to their democracies.

The smaller nations and states, among them St Helena, the Bahamas, Kiribati and Bougainville, Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia, Samoa in the Pacific islands and the Maldives gathered together to share the experiences of parliamentarians  representing populations of less than 500,000 citizens.

Ms Robin Adams, the Speaker of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly, said the conference felt like a family: “It’s a real fraternity. It is the very best thing for tiny places like us. The CPA has been such a wonderful friend” she said.

Mr Wilby Lucas, Deputy Speaker of the Seychelles unveiled the details of his nation’s comprehensive blueprint for maritime security at the conference, arguing the need for wider global efforts to protect the islands’ economy from the secondary effects of piracy.

He said the solution to piracy cannot lie with just one state or organization, nor is there a single remedy: “We have attempted to mobilize global support. The act of piracy has serious a economic impact. Tourism is linked to cruise ships and all maritime industries have been affected,” he said.

“This lost four per cent of our GDP, disrupting tuna fishing which is a mainstay of our economy, loss of employment and earnings and with the shortage of tuna to the canning industries there has been a 30 per cent decline in revenue.”

The Republic of Seychelles, which faces the coast of Somalia, is more exposed to piracy than any other nation in the world. In 2009 alone, there were 270 incidents of piracy with 867 crew taken hostage, 10 injured, four killed and one still missing.

The cost of piracy has resulted in big hikes in national insurance premiums – up more than 50 percent – as well as large losses, estimated at 30 per cent, of port and fisheries revenues.

Around €2.3 million per year is being spent on anti-piracy patrols and surveillance by the Seychelles although this is seriously limited by the sheer enormity of its maritime surrounds with some 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean territory.

Mr Lucas told the conference that the most pressing issues for the Seychelles are to:

  • Improve surveillance and security to ensure that the law of the sea and prosecutions are enforced;
  • Boost the capacity of Somalia itself to play a part in preventing piracy.

He said the battle is not one for the Seychelles to fight alone, particularly as the broader threat to the international community – including the suspected link between piracy and other illegal activities such as terrorism – is a real possibility.

The conference also heard from Mr Tommy Turnquest from the Bahamas who expressed his nation’s concern about the challenges of drug trafficking and associated crimes such as human and arms trafficking.