Thursday, October 28, 2010

AU: Seal Off Somalia

Though they haven't been in the news lately, it seems the Somali pirates haven't given up their pirating ways. Over the weekend pirates seized a German cargo ship and a Singapore-flagged liquefied gas tanker heading from Kenya to the Seychelles Islands. There has been some confusion in the press reports over whether the Singapore ship, the MV York, was carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) or a type of liquid gas, like gasoline. For the pirates it probably doesn't make a difference, their standard operating procedure is to hold a ship and crew for ransom, not to try to offload and sell the ship's cargo.

The capture of the two ships likely points to a seasonal uptick in piracy off the Somali coast, which tends to increase at the end of the year when the weather patterns in the Indian Ocean become more favorable to the pirates. The attacks also mark some of the furthest the pirates have ventured fropm Somalia so far – the German ship was seized nearly 1,200 miles from the coast of Kenya, while the MV York was taken 170 miles from Mombasa, which is near Kenya's southern border – far from Somalia. The European Union Naval Force, which is helping to coordinate anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean said they believe the Somali pirates currently hold close to 20 ships and nearly 400 sailors.

The African Union meanwhile has formally requested that the United Nations endorse a military mission to completely seal off Somalia's borders from land and see. Under the plan suggested by the AU, a UN-led naval force will engage in a total blockade of Somalia's 1,500 miles of coastline both to try to halt piracy in the Indian Ocean and to stop the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Somalia. On land a contingent of 6,000 AU peacekeepers is fighting a running battle with Islamist militias in the capital, Mogadishu, all in an attempt to keep Somalia's fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in power. The AU would like this peacekeeping force bolstered to 20,000; funded in large part by the United Nations. So far the AU troops have had their hands full trying to maintain control over just a portion of Mogadishu; expanding this security operation out into the countryside will be impossible without additional troops and funding, and so long as Somalia remains without a functioning government, Somalia will remain a haven for pirates and possibly al-Qaeda-linked militias.

The African Union plan is supported by the Somali TFG's foreign ministry, no word yet on whether the United Nations will throw their support behind the plan as well.
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