Home' Ships and Shipping : August 2009 Contents in combating pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, but it has been
significantly difficult in the Somali Basin ostensibly due to the size
of the area that covers about 1.1 million square miles."
According to Captain Winkler, piracy has accelerated over the
last few years mainly because of high poverty levels in Somalia as
well as the lack of an established government in the country.
"With no proper political structures in the battle devastated
Somalia, it means that there are no institutions tasked with the
prevention of crime such as piracy."
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, while backing the United
Nations Security Council resolutions 1814 and 1816 that authorise
force against Somali pirates, however insisted on the international
community coming to the aid of the recently constituted Somali
Transitional Government led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
President Kibaki also called for increased material support to
the transitional government of Somalia as well as an increase of
international peacekeeping forces in the battle-scarred country.
He cited the upsurge of Islamist insurgency, especially the Al
Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militant group as a serious threat to
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, President Sheikh Sharif
blamed the Islamist militias, who have the backing of more than
1,000 foreign fighters, for the violence in Somalia. He told Al
Jazeera that the foreign militants' sole purpose was to turn Somalia
into an Afghanistan or Iraq. Nevertheless, the leader of Al Shabaab,
which means Youth Movement, Abu Mansour, said that the
militant group was willing to work with Islamic militants of all
nationalities. Al Shabaab currently controls most of southern
Somalia and is battling government forces for control of the cities
of Mogadishu and Baidoa.
Calls for unity and reconciliation in Somalia
While addressing a military commanders symposium organised
by the US army and hosted by the Kenyan army that brought
together military commanders from more than 22 nations in
Mombasa recently, President Kibaki challenged the multinational
navies to come up with solutions to eradicate piracy."
According to security experts attending the conference in
Mombasa, the solution to the piracy menace lies on land, in
conjunction with an effective local government. However, the
navies have limited power and resources to mount a ground
operation in Somalia. Moreover, the UN and other western powers
such as the US have been dragging their feet for a long time to put
boots on the ground in Somalia, fearing the recurrence of the 1993
humiliation of American ground troops in Mogadishu after the
militants downed a US aircraft.
Numerous proposals to help alleviate the political crisis in
Somalia have hopelessly failed based on immediacy of tangible
results, practicality and sustainability. Diplomats under the
regional Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
say the solution to the crisis must come from Somalia itself, citing
the dismantling of the warlord culture that has devastated the
nation as a crucial first step towards peace in Somalia.
Kenya set the ball rolling on the fight against piracy when it
reached a bilateral agreement with the United States
Government in January this year to prosecute and incarcerate
pirates through its judicial process under the penal code. This
paves the way for the US Navy to arrest pirates and hand them
over to Kenyan authorities for trial. Kenya has a similar
agreement with the European Union after most western nations
became wary of trying pirate suspects in their countries fearing
that they could seek asylum in their countries after release.
Apart from deploying naval forces in the region, regional
states have set up an anti-piracy intelligence centre in Sana'a,
Yemen, a regional rescue coordination centre in Mombasa,
Kenya and regional sub-centres in Dar es Salaam, the Seychelles
and South Africa. According to Jerome Ntibarekerwa, the
General Secretary of the Port Management Association of Eastern
and Southern Africa (PMAESA), regional seaports are on high
alert over a sophisticated pirate communication ring outside of
Somalia that is possibly providing critical information to the
pirates on merchant ship movement in the region that leads to
their capture. Mr Ntibarekerwa notes that the pirates are using
modern vessels and communications equipment that enable
them capture merchant ships and open ransom discussions with
the shipping companies.
However, the world must not be blind to the possible
repercussions of halting the pirates. When US snipers rescued
Captain Richard Phillips, who was held hostage by the pirates in
the Indian Ocean after the capture of the 'Maersk Alabama', the
pirates vowed to revenge this and they indeed captured at least
four other vessels in less than 24 hours. The pirates, some of whom
are believed to have links to Al Qaeda, have vowed to attack US
interests in the region as well as launch possible attacks on Kenya
for aiding the global efforts to root out piracy by agreeing to
prosecute pirates in Kenyan courts.
Kenya's Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti
recently told the Kenyan media: "We are aware and monitoring
what is going on, especially in Somalia. I am not dreaming because
the threat is real and we have been victims before."
Mr Saitoti said this while addressing Kenyan security and
intelligence officials in Nairobi after US spy agencies tipped Kenya
over a possible terror attack on Kenya and US interests in the region.
While this is the case, Kenya is ill equipped to prevent the
more than US$150 million already paid in ransoms to the
Somali pirates from infiltrating its economy. Kenya's security
apparatus is yet to subject financial institutions to surveillance
in order to intercept dirty money laundered from drugs and
other crimes such as ransom paid to the pirates. The lack of
money laundering laws and Kenya's vulnerability as a drugs
transit point and possible safe haven for terrorists is worrying
the international community.
For close to 20 years, the world has dragged its feet and
turned a cold shoulder towards the humanitarian and political
crises in Somalia under the pretext that the crisis is solely an
African problem. With the upsurge in piracy however, the crisis
is no longer an African issue to solve as it continues to exhibit
The international community must work together to unite
Somalia and rebuild this war-ravaged nation. Again, this raises the
question: Can the world afford to ignore the crisis in Somalia?
SHIPS AND SHIPPING August 2009 11
Pirates board the 'Faina'
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