It was quickly agreed the real measure of success of the second meeting of the South Asia and Africa Regional Port Security Cooperative (SAARPSCO), held Sept. 9-10 near Port Louis, was the forum itself.
â€œThis conference could not have come at a more opportune time, when the world is facing serious threats from both international terrorism and piracy at sea,â€ said Mauritius Vice Prime Minister Xavier Luc Duval, who helped open the two-day event. â€œThe incidence of increased piracy attacks around the world, and especially in this region, is very worrying.â€
The Mauritius Ports Authority (MPA), in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard, hosted the conference to bring together key senior policy and decision makers to meet and discuss global port security challenges. The conference was attended by representatives from Mauritius, the Republic of the Seychelles, India, Madagascar, Kenya, Reunion Island, Mayotte, Japan, Bangladesh, Italy and the U.S.
The Seychelles will assume leadership of SAARPSCO for 2010 and host the third meeting next year.
As piracy off Somaliaâ€™s 2,720 kilometers (1,700 miles) of coastline increases, Mauritius and other Indian Ocean countries have stepped up collaboration on port security issues, sometimes with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard.
â€œThe Indian Ocean has traditionally been a quiet place,â€ says Shekur Suntah, Director-General of the Mauritius Ports Authority. â€œOver time, however, maritime industry has grown and now there are threats on our doorstep. We will find answers together to these problems.â€
Many of the participants at this yearâ€™s gathering said the forum has already had a positive impact in the region. A sound network of information sharing and interoperability will be the basis of a regional strategy to combat piracy, says Capt. Gerald Swanson, Commanding Officer of U.S. Coast Guard Far East Activities headquartered in Tokyo.
â€œThe first step is a venue where we can have these discussions,â€ said Swanson, whose unit executes the U.S. Coast Guardâ€™s international port security mission across a vast 47-nation Asia-Pacific region. â€œThatâ€™s why a gathering such as SAARPSCO is so critical. The U.S. Coast Guard presence in the region is small, but we have those relationships already in place and itâ€™s only natural to capitalize on them.â€