Home' Ships and Shipping : August 2009 Contents For close to two decades, the world has turned a blind eye as
Somalis butchered each other and warlords called the shots in
demarcated territories in Somalia.
For the rest of the world, that was none of their business, but as
Somalis quickly perfected the art of hijacking ships on the high
seas and demanding ransom for their safe release -- thereby causing
major disruptions on one of the world's busiest shipping corridors
-- it has quickly become their business.
And this raises the question: Can the world continue to ignore
the crisis in Somalia?
The game changer came last year after the buccaneers hijacked a
Saudi-owned oil tanker and a Ukrainian vessel carrying weaponry
for the Kenyan military. The audacity and the location of the
hijackings deep in international waters raised the red flag for the
international maritime community to a serious problem that
needed urgent solutions.
With the promise of green dollars raining down from the blue
skies above and a lawless haven to stash away their loot, the
skinny, thick-skinned, gun-toting lads from Somalia are bolder and
willing to take greater risks to capture more ships. The lure of hard
cash ahead and abject poverty back in their homeland are the
driving forces to venture deep into the Indian Ocean preying on
Millions of dollars in ransom
At the crack of dawn in their bases in the port towns of Eyl and
Hobyo, elders sip on strong coffee and chat loudly on their satellite
phones to get the latest news from the high seas. The two
buccaneer bases are booming, as the rest of Somalia continues to
wallow in the miasma of poverty, thanks to the millions of dollars
paid to the pirates in ransom money.
According to Kenyan maritime officials, piracy is not new to
Somalia, as they have been doing it for the last two decades, often
within a range of 50 nautical miles from the Somali coastline.
According to Andrew Mwangura, Coordinator of the Seafarers
Assistance Programme, Somali pirates ostensibly attacked fishing
vessels within 50 miles of the coastline using dinghies and skiffs.
They also hijacked foreign vessels believed to be dumping chemical
waste off the Somali coastline by taking advantage of the lack of a
government and coast guard in Somalia.
Soon, the buccaneers realised that this could be a booming
business for them and they started attacking ocean going ships
deep in international waters by using larger mother boats they
had captured to transport them hundreds of miles into the ocean
and use skiffs and speed boats to chase slow moving vessels with
According to Mr Mwangura, it is believed that some of the
pirates were former coast guards under the last functioning Somali
government that collapsed in 1991 while others are poor
fishermen and poverty-stricken youth who see piracy as a way to
strike it rich. Lured to the seas by the millions of dollars offered by
shipping companies in exchange for their freighters and cargo, the
lads are all too willing to try their luck in the seas.
This has led to a dramatic increase of pirate attacks in the Gulf
of Aden and the Somali Basin, which are critical shipping corridors
between the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region and Europe and
the Middle East, the Far East and Africa regions respectively.
According to the Kenya Maritime Authority Director General
Nancy Karigithu, the pirates have so far raked in an estimated US$150
million in the past year alone which has pushed insurance premiums
for shipping companies up between 30 and 40 percent. This has led to
a series of coordinated activities in the region and beyond that are set
to provide remedial measures to the escalating situation.
Naval forces to the rescue
With Kenya experiencing the worst of the pirate attacks due to
its proximity to Somalia, this East African nation has been
proactive in finding workable solutions to the menace that is
disrupting among others, the supply of oil to its economy and
the neighbouring economies of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and
the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kenya's
tourism sector has also been hit by the piracy wave in the Indian
Ocean, with cruise ships destined for Mombasa attacked in
the high seas and consequently diverted to the Seychelles or
Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. According to the Kenya Shippers
Council, the Port of Mombasa could lose business to
Dar-es-Salaam if the situation persists.
Kenya has worked collaboratively with regional and
international maritime and security agencies and has come up
with multi-pronged proposals that seek to provide remedial
measures to the situation as the search for amicable permanent
solutions to the situation continues. The Kenyan Naval Force is
providing armed escort of shipping vessels approaching or leaving
Kenyan territorial waters.
According to the Kenyan Chief of General Staff General
Jeremiah Kiang'a, the Kenyan military will attack and sink pirate
vessels close to Kenyan territorial waters. General Kiang'a says the
Kenyan military has deployed a number of fighter jets and naval
vessels and is operating at least ten radar surveillance stations
along the Kenyan coastal strip from Shimoni in the south to
Kiunga on the Somali border. This comes at a time when
international naval vessels have been deployed to provide
security escort to shipping lines in the Gulf of Aden to deter
pirate attacks. But with Somalia having more than 2,000 miles of
coastline, the largest in Africa, the multinational naval force has
in most cases been stretched thin as the pirates continue to defy
the security cordon in the Somali Basin that stretches to over a
million square miles.
Says Achim Winkler, Commander of the German Navy flotilla:
"The multinational naval forces have been remarkably successful
August 2009 SHIPS AND SHIPPING
A skiff forced to go alongside German frigate 'FGS Rheinland-Pfalz'
A detainee handed over to Kenyan authorities by German MPs
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