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NATO and Ukraine: Unlikely Team in Piracy Fight

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Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, February 22, 2013. Atlantic Council Photo

Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, February 22, 2013. Atlantic Council Photo

When it comes to maritime security, piracy has become one of the most prevalent issues for NATO to deal with. In considering which nations are most involved in combating maritime piracy, Ukraine is probably not the first name that comes to mind. As it turns out, this non-NATO, non-EU Eastern European nation is heavily involved in the fight against piracy at sea. Ukraine has even become a valuable ally to NATO in anti-piracy campaigns, something not exactly expected from a nation so closely aligned with Russia on the geopolitical map.

Impact of Piracy on Ukraine

At the end of last month, NATO announced that Ukraine would actively take part in NATO’s anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean. Kiev has agreed to offer a frigate and a helicopter in the second half of 2013 for Operation Ocean Shield, the mission designed to deter and disrupt pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. While it is not readily apparent, the impact of piracy on Ukraine is very real and a significant security concern for the former Soviet nation. From 2008 to mid-2012, over 140 Ukrainian sailors were victims of piracy, many of whom suffered brutal torture and abuse at the hands of their captors. Of today’s global security challenges, piracy may have the most disproportionately large impact on Ukraine. Even though Ukraine’s merchant fleet is relatively small at 1.8% of the world total, the country has somewhere between 80, 000 and 100, 000 merchant sailors at sea, or 8-10 percent of the world’s total. It also supports over twenty higher education establishments that train seafarers, and Ukraine is the third largest contributor of commercial crews in the world, second to Russia and the Philippines.

When taking into account demographics, Ukraine arguably has the world’s greatest concentration of merchant sailors in its workforce and thus, the greatest exposure as a country to the human cost of piracy. In addition, the Ukrainian economy also bears substantial costs. With 2, 782 km of coastline, one of the world’s best navigable river systems and