Exactly a year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. This major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War plunged Europe and the rest of the world into an energy and food crisis. This invasion surprised many who thought that armed conflicts of this degree would nowadays not be possible on European soil. Especially after a global pandemic that had just brought the whole world to its knees by incapacitating the supply chain of goods and raw material.
The invasion also triggered a broad awareness among European countries that the continent had for far too long neglected to adequately secure its supplies of energy, food and other material.
The Port of Antwerp in Belgium is the second busiest in Europe after Rotterdam, and ranks 15th on the world. Belgian shipping, together with the other shipping companies, bring the much-needed energy, building material, grains and consumer goods to Europe, and also bring European goods to the rest of the world. 90% of goods are carried by water. In times of conflict, the continuity of the supply chain is even more crucial for the security of our economy, our society and ultimately our freedoms and our democracy.
« Unbeknownst to many, piracy on shipping routes is today still a constant threat, even more lethal and aggressive in modern times, » says Elle De Soomer, RBSA’s Legal Affairs Director. « Any failure to contain piracy will tip the delicate balancing act of protecting our borders and strengthening our security. »
On January 13 this year until 1 June, Belgium took over for the second time the lead of Operation AGENOR, the military pillar of the EMASoH. The European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz is a maritime security initiative led by seven European countries to ensure the safe transit in the area for merchant shipping.
Belgium’s Rear Admiral Renaud Flamant gave a strong message on the day of the takeover ceremony: “As the new Force Commander, I am eager to continue the course set by my predecessors. Strengthening the freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Gulf region is of crucial importance. Not only for Belgium, but also for all EMASoH countries, our allies and also the broader international community.”
Likewise, the EU made a decisive move last December to protect Europe’s supply chain security by prolonging the mandates of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operation in the Horn of Africa and Somalia.
As such, the EUCAP Somalia (the EU’s civilian capacity-building mission), the EUTM Somalia (the EU’s military training mission) and Operation ATALANTA (an EU executive military maritime operation) will be extended until 31 December 2024.
« The Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association is grateful to the Council for their decision to extend the mandate of those missions, » added Ms De Soomer.
« For merchant shipping to continue their work in keeping the supply chains running, especially in times of crises, we depend fully on these missions to mitigate any disruption to our navigation, or worse, threats to the lives of our crew and the integrity of our ships and cargos. »
In the latest ICC’s International Maritime Bureau’s report on piracy and armed robbery against ships, piracy is at its lowest since 2018. While it has dropped significantly in the Gulf of Guinea, attacks have risen in the Singapore Straits. A total of 115 incidents were reported last year, with 95% of targeted vessels being boarded. The decrease of reports worldwide does not imply that the piracy is a diminished threat. It means persistent vigilance and regional cooperation work in controlling piracy. This should above all be kept up in the context of the current situation in Europe.
Photos Courtesy of:
Nathalie Mylle (Ministerie van Defensie)