THE Memorandum of Understanding on counter-piracy between the governments of the Bahamas and the United States of America will play a critical role in maintaining and enhancing the country’s position as a leading global Flag State, Minister of Transport Glenys Hanna-Martin said.
Mrs Hanna-Martin said the agreement will strengthen the Bahamas’ enforcement reach in volatile shipping areas such as the coast of Somalia.
She said the additional economic and national security benefits from the agreement should also bode well for the Bahamas.
“This agreement is very important to the Bahamas particularly because we have so many vessels that are potentially at risk and we appreciate the co-operation (with the United States) that I think inures to the benefit of both states,” Mrs Hanna-Martin said.
“The agreement acknowledges the very serious issue of piracy in specific areas of the globe and it is the fact that we are vulnerable as a Flag State.
“Where the Americans are involved initially, and it involves a Bahamian-flagged vessel, we have a process of co-operation that will lead to the management of any criminal activities that could impact The Bahamas as a Flag State.”
She said Bahamians should not let the great geographical distance between the Bahamas and Somalia – where pirate attacks cost the world economy more than $14 billion over 2010 and 2011 – distract them from the serious nature of piracy and the effect it can have on the Bahamian economy.
Officials around the world say while there has not been one single successful hijack of a major commercial vessel off the coast of Somalia in more than a year, countries must continue to work together.
Observers believe partnerships such as the one signed between the Bahamas and the United States are responsible for the reduction in the number of successful attacks on major commercial ships off the coast of Somalia.
“We are not physically there; we don’t have enforcement vessels et cetera in that part of the world, but the United States of America has a larger reach and this anticipates circumstances in which they are on the frontline of that reach and the processes that will kick in that would reach an agreed process in enforcement,” Mrs Hanna-Martin said.
“Mr Kelly (United States Acting Assistant-Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, Tom Kelly) and I met and we agreed that the issue of enforcement is critical because if you have activities of a severe criminal activity that are left unchecked, then it acquiesces a facilitative environment to those persons committing those acts.
“This now puts in place a framework that better guarantees a process in the event of an act of piracy. It’s a tightening of the enforcement aspect of it; it’s collaboration between states as Flagged Ships can be very complex in its profile as those ships can be registered in one country, the crew from another jurisdiction, and the ship geographically somewhere else.”
She said almost 90 per cent of trade is done by sea and that it is very critical that the global economy is not “compromised and/or threatened by that activity.”
“This, therefore, begins a strengthening of pillars of upholding the importance of world trade at sea and the fact that we now have two states cooperating towards that effort, hopefully as we move forward, more states will begin cooperative efforts that will begin to create additional buffers against this sort of thing.
“This agreement anticipates a concession on the jurisdiction point. The United States has the assets. A scenario is they seize the pirates, so the question is where would you prosecute? This agreement allows the Bahamas to concede that jurisdiction point to allow the United States to prosecute,” Mrs Hanna-Martin added.
Secretary Kelly said the counter-piracy agreement not only recognises the Bahamas’ role as a leading Flag State, and as a maritime nation,” but also provides a process by which both countries can deal with some of the issues surrounding global piracy.
“Somali pirates over the past several years have terrorised the Indian Ocean and attacked many ships including some ships that are flagged to the Bahamas and the agreement that we signed today provides a process by which the Bahamas and the United States can consider what to do in the event there are future cases in which Bahamian-flagged vessels are attacked by Somali pirates and the United States apprehends those pirates,” Mr Kelly said.
“The good news is that multi-lateral co-operation has really set the Somali pirates on the defensive (as) there has not been a successful pirate attack in the Indian Ocean for more than a year which is incredible when you consider that just two years ago there were more than 100 successful attacks in the Indian Ocean.”