South Africa has become the 19th signatory to the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) Djibouti Code of Conduct, all in the name of preventing the escalating pirate activity in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
Zola Skweyiya, the country's high commissioner in the UK, signed the document, titled Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships, during a recent conference which focused on how to counter piracy off the Somali coast, held at the IMO's headquarters in London on 15 May 2012.
The conference was attended by over 300 delegates from signatory states as well as a number of relevant organisations.
Topics under discussion included building maritime infrastructure, law enforcement capacity and the implementation of the code.
The IMO is the UN's specialised agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.
The code's 18 other signatories are: the Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, the Sudan Republic (North Sudan), the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, and Yemen. All countries are located around Africa's west coast, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Peninsula.
The Djibouti Code, which has been in effect since 29 January 2009, has space for two other countries to sign as only 21 signatories are allowed. France and Mozambique are still eligible to sign.
Yamuna Pillay, the first secretary political of the South African Commission in London, said: "The signing of the code entails that South Africa, as a signatory of the non-mandatory code, will cooperate in the repression of piracy and armed robbery in consistence with our available resources and related priorities, laws and regulations within applicable rules of international law."
It takes into account and promotes the implementation of those aspects of UN Security Council resolutions 1816 (2008), 1838 (2008), 1846 (2008) and 1851 (2008) and of UN General Assembly resolution 63/111.
What the code of conduct entails
According to the IMO the signatories commit themselves towards the investigation, arrest and prosecution of those reasonably suspected of having committed acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships, including those inciting or intentionally facilitating such acts.
Furthermore, action may include the seizure of suspect ships and property on board such ships; as well as the rescue of ships, persons and property affected by acts of piracy and armed robbery. It also involves the proper care, treatment and repatriation of people, such as fishermen or passengers, who have been disturbed by these acts, particularly those who have been subjected to violence.
The signatories will conduct shared operations between themselves, and also with navies from countries outside the region.
Pillay said: "States contribute as per their abilities. The cooperation between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania to conduct patrols along the channel is recognised as a well-coordinated one."
She added that additional contribution would be based on an objective assessment, and would have to be approved in Parliament.
"At this stage the commitment as part of the SADC mandate has been effective enough."
Djibouti signatories will also have access to three information sharing centres found in Sana'a in Yemen, Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. These centres, which have been fully functional since September 2011, help in anti-piracy efforts by ensuring that important information is distributed effectively and in good time.
They send out information on imminent threats and incidents on ships, as well as collecting and combining all information from signatories to prepare statistics and reports.
The implementation plan for the Djibouti Code of Conduct is being funded primarily through the IMO Djibouti Code Trust Fund, which received substantial early donations from France, Japan, Netherlands, Norway and the Republic of Korea, and more recent donations from the Marshall Islands and Saudi Arabia.
Strategic partnerships to the Code
During the recent maritime security conference, the IMO also signed strategic partnerships with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation; the UN Political Office for Somalia; the UN Office on Drugs and Crime; the World Food Programme; as well as, European Union, acting through the European External Action Service. Please correct these errors, which should never appear in a document sent through for subbing, because you know well enough what the convention is on British English, as well as the use of acronyms.
According to the IMO, the international community and maritime security organisations have already been working with the Somali transitional government and the authorities of the Galmudug, Puntland, and Somaliland regions in that country through the so-called Kampala Process. This works on the principle that an integrated approach is the best way to develop a safe and secure maritime sector in Somalia.
The Kampala Process was initiated in January 2010 as a tri-party technical committee involving the Somali transitional federal government and the regional governments of Puntland and Somaliland. Its aim is to promote internal coordination, information generation and sharing, and to coordinate the respective counter-piracy offices.
Under the Kampala Process, anti-piracy laws have been laid down by the parties involved, and suspected pirates have been arrested and tried.