RIYADH (AFP) – Arab states of the Gulf and Red Sea said on Monday that they are planning a joint anti-piracy force, insisting defence of the crucial Red Sea waterway was the “primary responsibility” of littoral states.
Saying it was necessary to prevent the spread of piracy to the Red Sea or the Gulf, 11 regional states agreed to set up an all-Arab Navy Task Force, to be led at the outset by the Saudis, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The delegates to the conference in the Saudi capital stressed the “importance of the exclusion of the Red Sea from any international arrangements, especially the fight against sea piracy.”
Royal Saudi Navy commander Lieutenant General Prince Fahd bin Abdullah told journalists: “This subject is now under negotiation and we are hoping to reach an agreement to form this force.”
Joining the talks were representatives from Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Fahd said part of the effort would be to design ways of cooperating with the flotillas from some 20 foreign countries now patrolling sea lanes in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa to stop pirate attacks.
“One of the objectives of the meeting is to discuss joint Arab coordination with multinational forces operating in the region to combat piracy and to agree on the mechanisms of the Arab contribution” to these efforts, he said.
He said that the Gulf states were involved in the proposed task force because of the danger posed to their shipping, particularly vital oil and gas exports which pass via the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
A joint statement said the Saudi navy will coordinate efforts by the other Arab naval commands on the Red Sea and Gulf for a period of one year and then review the results.
Another meeting on the issue will be scheduled in two months, it said.
More than 70 vessels, including a fully-laden Saudi oil supertanker, have been hijacked for ransom by Somali pirates in the past two years. Despite patrols by a raft of foreign navies, attacks are still frequently reported.
Saudi Arabia has said in recent months that it has stepped up its high-seas patrols for pirates.
The International Maritime Bureau has reported a handful of attempted pirate attacks, none successful, at the southern end of the Red Sea this year, mostly in the strategically important Bab al-Mandab strait linking to the Gulf of Aden.
The bureau recorded no attacks in the Red Sea last year.
But the Saudi push for an all-Arab naval task force could also be related to what diplomats say are Riyadh’s growing worries over the security not only of Red Sea shipping but also of its essential infrastructure in the area, including oil facilities, power generation and desalinisation plants.