Athens.- International anti-piracy efforts, particularly off the troubled Horn of Africa, dominated US Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro’s official talks in Athens this week, with the US diplomat being the first high-ranking Obama administration official to meet with new Papandreou government ministers following the Oct. 4 elections in Greece.
Shapiro arrived in the Greek capital on Thursday to attend the US Coast Guard’s Amver Awards ceremony at a downtown Athens hotel, given the massive Greek-flagged and Greek-owned merchant fleet plying the world’s seas.
Shapiro, who holds the political-military affairs portfolio at the State Department, met on Thursday with Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, Minister of Citizens’ Protection Michalis Chrysohoidis and Alternate Defence Minister Panos Beglitis. He also met with shipping sector owners and representatives.
Asked on Friday about his previous day’s contacts, during a press briefing at the US embassy in Athens, Shapiro, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, cited Washington’s promotion of the so-called “New York Declaration” aimed at fighting piracy off Somalia — i.e. the NW Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden — and protecting commercial shipping. He said the US administration briefed the new Greek government on the initiative and requested Athens’ participation, given the strategic share of international shipping controlled by Greek interests.
In response to a press question, Shapiro clarified that there is no US administration position or view favouring armed security guards aboard vessels, noting that the New York Declaration emphasises “best management policies” to prevent piracy, such as increased deck look-outs, making sure ladders are raised, accelerating to avoid pirates’ speedboats and even repelling boarders with high-pressure fire hoses.
Britain, Cyprus, Japan and Singapore are, besides the United States, signatories of the NY Declaration.
Moreover, although he said no specific request was made to the Greek government to increase its military presence in the contact group of nations whose vessels patrol the waters off the Somali coasts, he added that more contributions would be “helpful”.
Shapiro said Washington’s anti-piracy efforts have been upgraded as a direct result of the dramatic increase in incidents off Somalia, with particular mention made of the taking of a Chinese bulk carrier on Monday some 700 miles off the Somali mainland — a development indicating pirates’ reach into deep sea maritime lanes. The US official said the area off Somalia was a piracy “hotspot” and serves as a model of multilateral cooperation, thus being applicable elsewhere in anti-piracy operations.
Deviating from a strictly anti-piracy framework, Shapiro stated that Greece has a “direct stake” in efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and that’s country’s wider region, when asked about the growing spectre of illegal immigration.
Greece is increasingly on Europe’s frontline vis-à-vis the illegal migration problem, with mostly Third World nationals using Turkish coasts to reach EU member-state Greece and the rest of the European Union.