> East Africa: Is the War Against Piracy
16 January 2012
The capture of 13 Somali pirates by a Nato-led force this weekend is being
hailed by the British government as evidence the tide is turning in the war
against piracy. REBECCA DAVIS examines recent developments to make
international shipping lanes safe once more.
At dawn on Saturday, Nato forces intercepted a dhow suspected of being a
pirate vessel off the Somali coast. First with helicopters manned by Royal
Marine snipers to warn the dhow to stop, the troops then sent in speedboats
to board the boat. Thirteen Somali pirates surrendered, with no casualties
on either side.
A "selection of weapons" was found on board, said the ministry of defence.
UK defence secretary Philip Hammond hailed the interception as "a clear
demonstration of Britain's ability to tackle piracy that threatens our
interests". Captain Gerry Northwood, commander of the mission, said they
were sending, "a clear message to other Somali pirates that we will not
tolerate their attacks on international shipping".
There have been other piracy-related success stories in 2012. Last week
seven Somali pirates ambitiously tried to hijack a Spanish warship with a
crew of more than 150, opening fire with assault rifles before trying to
clamber up the side of the massive ship.
The crew fired back, and the pirates were forced back into their small skiff
and captured. They chose the Patino, the vessel currently leading the EU's
multinational anti-piracy force.
The very fact that seven men in a tiny boat believed they could successfully
take on a 17,000ton warship is a telling indicator of just how brazen Somali
pirates have become. A new technique seems to be that of hijacking cargo
ships and then using those to launch further attacks.
This was the case with a Greek-owned chemical tanker, the Liquid Velvet,
hijacked in November. Manned by pirates, the ship moved towards the Gulf of
Aden and into international waters last week, before being intercepted by
another Nato ship part of the "Operation Ocean Shield" in the waters around
Somalia. The pirates were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine
When hijacked ships are not used as "motherships" to attack other vessels,
they are, of course, held for ransom. The Telegraph reported last week that
seven major merchant vessels are currently being held ransom, with
multi-million pound ransom negotiations involved in each case.
A UK government report on piracy published in December found the average
ransom payment had increased from $600,000 in 2007 to $4.7-million
The financial toll of piracy on the shipping industry is now estimated at
between $8-billion and $12-billion a year from the longer routes ships must
take and the punishing premiums insurance companies now demand.
And, of course, there is the human toll. An estimated 1,016 people were
taken hostage by Somali pirates last year alone.
One-hundred-and-seventy-two hostages are being held as you read.
Possibly the story which most horrified the world last year was that of
Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu, 66, kidnapped from her beach house in the Lamu
region of Kenya in October last year by Somali gunmen. Dedieu, a prominent
figure in the French feminist movement of the 70s, was a quadriplegic who
required four-hourly medical treatment for a heart condition. She died three
weeks after her abduction.
In the face of public outrage, responses to piracy have been forced to
change. There are now more than 60 private firms offering armed maritime
protection for the area around Somalia. In October 2011 UK Prime Minister
David Cameron announced that British ships would be allowed to apply for a
licence to carry armed guards on board in dangerous waters.
The decision was made after the Commonwealth summit in Australia discussed
the problem of piracy off the Horn of Africa.
In 2012 even more extreme solutions are likely to be sought. Channel 4 News
reported that Lloyds insurers would soon launch what amounts to a private
navy (or "Convoy Escort Programme") to lower insurance risks when crossing
It is now also increasingly common for ship owners to carry devices such as
water jets on board and make use of technology like "sonic deterrents", also
known as "long range acoustic devices", which can emit painfully loud sound
for long distances and cause permanent hearing damage. But, of course, these
measures can only protect (mainly commercial) ships and don't address the
root causes of piracy.
The UN does run a number of "counter-piracy" projects in Somalia, but these
seem largely focused on ways to bring pirates to justice including improving
prison conditions, building courtroom facilities and training judges.
Two NGOs in Somalia, Saferworld and World G18 Somalia, told the UK
government's investigation into the problem there was a major need to
provide alternative employment options to piracy.
However, some experts say there are currently too few options to develop
different sources of legitimate income and what is needed is a more
comprehensive nation-building project. There seems to be consensus on the
idea that greater engagement with communities on the ground in Somalia is
The government report found an "ambiguous and shifting relationship between
Somali pirates and the local communities, local and national politicians,
and Al-Shabaab" (the militant Islamist group which controls large parts of
Al-Shabaab, the report suggested, "seems to regard the buccaneering and this
manner of raising money as an improper activity that goes against the
moralistic and strict version of Islam that it follows".
The report's recommendation was that the UK government strengthen its
engagement with Somalian civil society organisations and indeed the UK's
foreign and commonwealth office has said the government would commit
£2-million to economic development projects in coastal regions and spreading
awareness about the dangers of piracy.
Those are long-term projects, however, which will inevitably take time to
bear fruit. In the meantime, independent maritime security consultant Paul
Gibbins warned Channel 4 News the recent drop in numbers of successful
hijackings should not lead to complacency.
"Pirates are not stupid," he said. "In the past they have shown they can
change tactics to adapt to the changing security situation and I think they
will respond to current measures". DM
iMaverick is South Africa's first daily tablet newspaper and includes
coverage from the Daily Maverick and Free African Media. To subscribe, go
to: www.imaverick.co.za <http://www.imaverick.co.za/
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Jan 16 2012 - 08:27:14 EST