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May 15, 2011

Page: 10/40

Home > 2011 Issues > May 15, 2011

The Moving Finger Writes
Somali pirates: Brigands of high seas

By MV Kamath

DOES anyone care what is happening in Somalia? For that matter, does anyone know where Somalia is and why, in the last six years, Somalian pirates are attacking foreign ships, capturing them and holding their crew as hostages? The ransom demanded is unbelievably high. Some time ago, a UAE owned 4,000-ton ship MV Asphalt Venture was captured about 100 nautical miles off the coast of Dar-os-Salaam in Tanzania and even when the owners paid $3.65 million as ransom the pirates have not yet released the ship’s crew, including its Captain. Pirate hijacking is getting bolder by the day.

Since 2009, some 53 vessels have been hijacked and 1,181 sailors have been held as hostages. Just this year Somali pirates have taken four more ships and are currently holding in all 31 ships and 713 sailors as captives. In any civilised world this should be unacceptable. The Indian authorities are doing their bit to maintain order on the seas. They have, for instance, deployed one naval warship in the Gulf of Aden and since October 2008, more than 1,500 ships from around the world have been escorted to safety.

According to Anil Bhat, a Defence and Security analyst, Indian surveillance has been increased in the Indian Ocean region and unmanned aerial vehicles are regularly deployed for surveillance close to the coast. Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin, DOC-in-C, western Naval Command has been quoted as saying that “a more aggressive approach needs to be taken against Somalian pirates” who have apparently shifted their base of activities from the Gulf of Aden to Seychelles. The question is asked: Why have the Somalis suddenly taken to brigandage in the high seas presently operating even very near India’s doorstep of Lakshadeep islands? One answer is that – and few believe in it – they have been pushed out of work by illegal fishing by foreign vessels and illegal dumping of toxic waste by Big Corporations. Then there is another reason also advanced. It would seem that the possibility cannot be ruled out of Somali pirates being used by L-e-T’s Karachi Project (“with solid support from the Pakistani Army and Navy”) for furthering anti-Indian activities.

Apparently the al Qaeda is also involved in encouraging pirates. In any event Somalia is on the US list of States sponsoring terrorism. Somalia has a long and disturbed political history. Somalia covers the easternmost portion of Africa and is bordered by Djibouti to the north west, Kenya to the southwest, Ethiopia in the West and the Gulf of Aden in the north. Both Britain and Italy have ruled parts of Somalia at different times. 1960 saw the formation of an independent Republic of Somalia under a civilian government. But then a civil war erupted and since 1991 no Central Government has controlled the entire country. The war disrupted agricultural production and food distribution in southern Somalia. Around 2009, some 132,000 Somalia reportedly left the country and another 3,00,000 displaced internally. This has led to lawlessness within the country and brigandage on the seas as a means of survival. There has been extensive genocide in Somalia, according to former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and a UN Special Envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdullah. Currently, a Transitional Federal Institution (TFI) “rules” the country with a Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) in operation, with each of the four major clans in the country assigned 61 seats each. A coalition government is supposedly in ‘power’ – whatever that means.

In 2009 Transparency International ranked Somalia at the bottom of the list on its annual Corruption Perception Index. Since October 14, 2010 Somalis have a new Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. But the truth is that Somalia is a totally failed state. It can’t control anything, let alone piracy which is proving to be a paying occupation and over which no one has anything to say. No amount of pressure on the Somali government can succeed and the international community seems surprisingly indifferent to the hijacking of ships carrying precious cargoes through specifically the Indian Ocean. The United Nations, in particular, seems to have lost its voice and the Big Powers, especially the United States is currently mired in orhter areas such as Afghanistan and Libya.

What are the possible options open to the United Nations? One is to take over the administration of Somalia lock, stock and barrel, keep civil disturbances under strict control, open up the markets and prevent starvation. It can’t be a One-Nation Show. The take over of the Administration must have the full support of the Security Council, considering that piracy does not distinguish ships of one nation alone but affects all maritime operation. If the United Nations hesitates to take action it may compel affected nations to fight back on their own, taking to the bombing of Somalia’s coastal belt by way of reprisal. Meanwhile fears also being expressed that al Qaeda is planning to take over the Somali government. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s deputy has been quoted as saying in 2007 that his party wants to “pro-ect” Somalia.

According to media reports, in October 2002 al Qaeda suicide bombers in a speed boat packed with explosives had rammed into USS Cole, killing 17 sailors and it would appear that months earlier, in June 2002 the Moroccan Government had arrested a group of al Qaeda operatives suspected of plotting raids on British and US tankers passing through the Strait of Gibralter. No such event has in recent times been reported but the likelihood seems to be that al Qaeda would like to get into the picture whether openly or under subterfuge.

What is clear is that unless peace and stability are restored in Somalia, Ship traffic within a radius of 100 nautical miles from Somalia will be in constant danger. The situation is going to get worse unless firm action under international auspices is quickly taken. The least the United Nations could do is to look into the complaints of the fishermen and see that they are met. A responsibility also rests on the media, Indian and foreign, to inquire into Somalia’s political and economic problems and find possible means to solve them. Surely, that is not asking for too much.

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