Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pirate Attacks Bloom At End of Monsoon Season

Officials with the international naval flotilla operating in the waters off the coast of Somalia are expecting a spike in pirate attacks now that the monsoon season is drawing to a close. Last weekend four pirate attacks against ships off the coast of Somalia were reported stopped by armed guards aboard the merchant vessels after shootouts with the attacking pirates.

The shootouts are a sign that the Somali pirates are becoming more aggressive in their attacks against merchant shipping, and that is because piracy has become such big business in Somalia. A large cargo ship and crew can fetch several million dollars in ransom payments to the pirates; there are now towns along the Somali coast whose entire economy is built around piracy (click here for the story about the pirate stock exchange in Haradheere). And while armed guards have been touted as one of the ways for merchant ships to prevent pirate attacks, the International Maritime Bureau is concerned about their use, fearing that armed guards on ships could spark an “arms race” with the pirates and that the pirates could resort to “shooting first” when attacking a ship. So far there have been very few deaths among the crews of the dozens of ships captured by Somali pirates – largely because the pirates make their money by ransoming the ship and crew and not from seizing the ship’s cargo. But the IMB fears that could change if merchant ships routinely fire back at the pirates. Commander John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union Naval Force, said that that the EU naval mission was also concerned about shootouts between the pirates and merchant ships, adding: “there are lots of gas and oil tankers in the Gulf of Aden that wouldn't benefit from grenades and bullets flying around.”

Meanwhile, the presence of the naval mission in the Gulf of Aden seems to be driving the Somali pirates farther out to sea. On Saturday, Norway reported that the UBT Ocean, a Norwegian-owned tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of fuel oil, had been captured by pirates off the coast of Madagascar, nearly 1,000 miles southeast of the Horn of Africa, the hub of pirate activity. It is one of the most-distant pirate attacks ever committed by the Somali pirates, in fact the UBT Ocean did not even register with the anti-piracy mission since they were traveling so far from Somalia. And according to the BBC, some pirates may also be turning inland – on Tuesday three trucks and drivers working for the World Food Program were reported captured by pirates outside of the pirate port city of Eyl. The WFP uses Eyl to move food supplies ashore for distribution into central Somalia, where many people displaced by the decades of civil strife in Somalia rely on the WFP for food assistance. An early report claimed that pirates from Eyl were demanding the release of a group of fellow pirates from Somaliland - a self-governing region of northern Somalia - in return for the WFP drivers. The seizure of the drivers and trucks marks the first time that Somali pirates have attacked ashore.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: