Tanzania has joined South Africa and Mozambique in a tripartite initiative to fight Somali piracy in the three countries’ waters. Signing the Memorandum of Understanding in Dar es Salaam on 7 February, Tanzanian Defence Minister, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, committed his country to the South Africa-Mozambique anti-piracy MoU of 8 November 2011.
In recognition of the potential southward spread of piracy, the 2011 agreement between Pretoria and Maputo had expressly left provision for Tanzania to join. As before, the focus of the trilateral MoU will be joint military exercises, information sharing and reconnaissance. The MoU gives the defence forces of the three countries the right to search, arrest and pursue any suspected pirate vessel.
While Somali pirates rarely venture into the Mozambique Channel, attempted attacks were reported in Tanzanian waters and as far south as the Comoros, at the northern entrance to the Channel.
Although South African waters are unlikely to ever be the scene of attacks by Somali pirates, for Pretoria the anti-piracy initiatives with Mozambique and Tanzania – and those it has with France – are important. In addition to contributing significantly to the building of regional relations and maritime security, they secure the safety of the Mozambique Channel as a vital corridor for almost all of South Africa’s maritime trade.
There is, therefore, a pre-emptive element to these initiatives, particularly as Tanzania and, especially, Mozambique, lack the resources to stave off incursions by Somali pirates. Joint efforts, such as those covered under the MoU, should, along with the acquisition by Mozambique of a permanent piracy monitoring system, go some way towards preventing a repeat of the December 2010 hijacking of the Vega-5 in the Mozambique Channel.
Equally important is the prevention of a future piracy industry in Mozambique or Madagascar. Both countries, like Somalia, have long, unpatrolled, coastlines, and high levels of poverty and unemployment. Unlike Somalia, they do, of course, have governments, albeit ones that are weak, under-resourced and, in the case of Madagascar, in a state of turmoil. While the causes of piracy invariably lie on land, in working with Mozambique and Tanzania, South Africa is demonstrating that it is not only serious about regional security, but that the prevention of piracy is indeed better than a cure.
Leighton G. Luke
Indian Ocean Research Programme