By: Mahmoud Assamiee
The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR- ARC) concluded its meetings last week with a pledge to support Yemen in establishing an anti-piracy regional center in the Gulf of Aden.
''The United Arab Emirates believes that the growing threat of piracy needs a coordinated effort to preserve valuable human lives, protect the business interests of all countries, including those of the IOR-ARC members, maintain the region's competitive edge and guarantee the security of our shipping lines." Said UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash.
He also said that maritime security is an important issue as the Indian Ocean is home to several checkpoints like the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, the Lombok and the Sunda Straits. He pointed out that piracy could disrupt energy flows and trade.
''Moreover, growing naval commerce means ''soft'' security issues such as terrorism, smuggling of narcotics, illegal arms trade and environment degradation which are also assuming importance;" he said.
''A starting point to deal with such security issues is to coordinate efforts of multi-dimensional IOR-ARC with that of maritime security-specific Indian Ocean Naval Symposium that was initiated last year,'' he added.
Although piracy was not highlighted in these meetings, Yemeni delegates raised the issue to get support of member states.
The purpose of the conference was to discus cultural, economic, trade and investment issues between member states, not security issues like piracy, said IOR-ARC's Executive Director Murteza Sarmadi.
But Yemeni Minister of Industry and Trade Yahya Al-Mutawakel was disappointed that piracy was not highlighted more, despite the fact that there are warships on Indian Ocean and the Arab Sea.
"This problem does not only threaten the immediate neighboring countries to the Gulf of Aden, it threatens all countries on the Indian Ocean rim," said Al-Mutawakel.
On Thursday June 25, Prime Minister Ali Mujawar opened the main event, the Ninth Ministerial Meeting of the IOR-ARC.
He talked about the challenges piracy presents to the association because it threatens marine lines in the western Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and south of the Red Sea. Now warships from European and Asian countries have to face piracy in their efforts to protect trade ships.
He talked about Yemen's efforts to protect marine lines, which are thwarted by pirates. He called on the international community and member states of the IOR-ARC to support Yemen in building its coastguard.
He also asked member states to help offset the cost of receiving refugees, and develop a regional center to coordinate efforts to combat piracy.
Mujawar also urged participants to establish a council for cooperation in field of marine transport, a center for technology, and a center to study the fishing industry.
"Delaying or slowing down cooperation projects and partnerships will cost precious time to enhance cooperation and partnership," he said, calling to make Sana'a meeting an embarking point for joint work and real activation to the organization.
"This meeting… comes in a time during which the world is witnessing financial crises ravaging global economies. What is pleasing is that effects of the crisis (on our countries) are much lesser than on big industrial countries," Mujawar indicated.
"Yemen gives Gulf of Aden and Red Sea security and stability special concern in its plans to ensure easiness in marine trade activity," said Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi.
"Yemen shoulders the responsibility for protecting international maritime activities in the Arab Sea and the Gulf of Aden, combating piracy and working on restoring Somali peace and stability. These are the real solutions to piracy."
Al-Qirbi, who was handed the presidency of the Ministers Council by Iranian Foreign Minster Manouchehr Mottaki, added that piracy and its effects on international trade require the integration of regional and international efforts in order to eradicate it without affecting fishermen and legal maritime activities.
The Council of Ministers' press-release said member states pledged full support to a Yemeni initiative to establish and an anti-piracy regional center in the Gulf of Aden and other efforts to combat piracy.
He indicated that Yemen presented a project to establish centers to combat piracy in Aden , Mukalla and Hudeidah in purpose of coordinating efforts of combating piracy and directing information to ships could face pirates, affirming that Yemen depends on support of regional countries in this purpose.
The council encouraged expanding cooperation between IOR-ARC member states in various areas including investments, tourism, construction, trade, education, the environment, weather alert systems, and other issues like protecting the fishing industry in the Indian Ocean.
The association held several meetings prior to the main event, the Ninth Meeting of Council Ministers.
The first meeting was for the Movable University (an educational program designed to facilitate exchange experiences between universities in countries overlooking the Indian Ocean). Delegates from India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Oman, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen discussed issues of regional cooperation, lead by Chair Dr, Charandasi of India.
Delegates also discussed 2008 reports from the last meeting in Iran, amendments to the group's constitution, academic issues, cooperation between member states, natural disasters, marine transport, science, technology, protecting the environment and other issues relating to Indian Ocean.
The fifteenth meeting of IOR-ARC held on Tuesday focused on academic systems, trade and investment.
The IOR- ARC is composed of 18 states, and was established in 1997 to boost economic, scientific and cultural cooperation between states overlooking the Indian Ocean.
The Member states include Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, the Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. China, Egypt, France, Japan and the United Kingdom are dialogue partners, while the Indian Ocean Tourism Organization is an observer.