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SAARC seeks urgent steps to protect maritime trade, security

Thimphu: Alarmed at potential links among piracy, terrorism and drugs trafficking in the Indian Ocean region, the eight-nation SAARC grouping today sought urgent steps to combat the growing menace that can jeopardise maritime trade and security.

The escalation of piracy-related incidents in the high seas in the Indian Ocean has "posed an alarming challenge" to the countries in the region, SAARC Secretary General Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed said in her inaugural address at the meeting of the grouping`s Interior/Home Secretaries here.

"Ample evidence suggests the potential links between piracy and terrorism, drugs trafficking, human smuggling and related crime," she said.

Saeed said South Asia depends a lot on sea-borne trade, and maritime security was a prime concern of the member countries.

"Therefore I would like to emphasise on the urgency to initiate action to combat this growing menace before it becomes too big a threat in the maritime domain surrounding SAARC nations," she said.

The SAARC Secretary General said that since this threat was trans-national in nature, regional cooperation was the best possible method to respond to the issue.

Saeed said the 32nd session of the SAARC Council of Ministers held here in April 2010 had endorsed a proposal from the leader of the Maldivian delegation to include maritime security and piracy under the purview of Interior and Home Secretaries and Ministers.

"Accordingly, the subject has been included as one of the items on our agenda for consideration (in today`s meeting)," she said.

Pirate attacks have spiked globally in the first six months of this year to 266 and a majority of these were launched by Somali pirates.

Pirate attacks on the world`s seas totalled 266 in the first half of 2011, up from 196 incidents in the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau`s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre.

More than 60 per cent of the attacks were carried out by Somali pirates, a majority of which were in the Arabian Sea area, it said in the report titled `Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships`.

The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have prevented a number of attacks by the sea pirates, mostly Somalians, in the past few months and apprehended over a 100 pirates.

On March 26, the Navy had apprehended 16 sea brigands and rescued 16 crew members after battling with the Somalian pirates off the Lakshadweep Islands.

On March 13, the Indian navy foiled a pirate attack and apprehended a pirate mother ship rescuing 13 crew members and caught 61 Somali sea brigands about 600 nautical miles off the western coast in the Arabian Sea.

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