First Published: 2008-12-28

 
The year Somali pirates challenged the world
 

During 2008, Somali pirates hijacked more than 100 ships, from luxury yachts to oil tankers.

 

Middle East Online

Raked in an estimated 120 million dollars in ransom money

MOGADISHU - Over the past year, Somali pirates have hijacked everything from luxury yachts to oil tankers, defying foreign navies and holding the world to ransom over one of the planet's busiest trade routes.

What was once a group of disgruntled fishermen has turned into a fearsome organisation which has attacked more than 100 ships this year alone and raked in an estimated 120 million dollars in ransom money.

Somali pirates captured the world's attention when they hijacked a Ukrainian cargo carrying combat tanks in September and a Saudi-owned super-tanker fully laden with two million barrels of crude two months later.

Armed with rifles, grenade-launchers and grapnel hooks, the pirates have wreaked havoc in the Gulf of Aden, where thousands of merchant vessels bottle-neck into the Red Sea each year.

The cost of ransoms, delays and insurance premiums has hit the shipping industry hard, prompting some companies to opt for the longer but safer route around the Cape of Good Hope.

"This unprecedented rise in piracy is threatening the very freedom and safety of maritime trade routes, affecting not only Somalia and the region, but also a large percentage of world trade," the top UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, said recently.

The latest high-profile hijackings have jolted the international community into action, with the dispatching of naval forces by the European Union and NATO to bolster already existing operations in the region.

Brussels earlier this month trumpeted its first-ever naval force, dubbed Atalanta, but pirates have demonstrated their ability to adapt to growing surveillance and started shifting their attacks further south and out to sea.

Foreign navies have thwarted some attacks but pirates have hardly been deterred and obstacles remain to an finding an approach that would substantially curtail piracy off the Somali coastline.

In its first mission beyond territorial waters, China also sent two destroyers and one supply ship to join the fleet of foreign navies patrolling the pirate-infested waters.

The number of different countries and jurisdictions involved create many legal complications to effective anti-piracy efforts.

For example, if US naval forces board a Greek-owned Panamanian-flagged ship with a Chinese crew to arrest Somali pirates and transfer them to Kenya, no fewer than six countries are involved.

Piracy "poses an enormous challenge to the international legal system", UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said at an international conference on piracy in Nairobi on December 10.

Experts have outlined a programme that would allow naval coalition countries to transfer detained pirates for prosecution in coastal countries such as Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti or Tanzania.

Yet all agree that piracy cannot be effectively tackled without a stronger strategy aimed at restoring law and order ashore.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution authorising states combating piracy to conduct operations on land in Somalia.

It allows states to "take all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia" to suppress "acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

Pirates have operated almost unimpeded in the northern breakaway state of Puntland and further south along the coast of Somalia, which has had no functioning institutions for years and is in the throes of an ever-worsening conflict and humanitarian crisis.

The authorities in Puntland have reacted angrily at suggestions they have a hand in piracy and urged the international community to clean up its own act, notably do more to stop illegal fishing in Somalia's waters and offer more aid to rebuild the country's institutions.

With 12 percent of global maritime trade and 30 percent of the world's crude oil sailing through the straits of Bab el Mandeb, the international community is scrambling to find answers.

With four dedicated UN Security Council resolution projects in the space of a few months, naval powers are seeking more freedom to target the pirates offshore and onshore.

Pirate activity was almost totally curbed under the rule of Islamic Courts Union (ICU), who had controlled a large swathe of Somalia for several months with relative peace and prosperity before being ousted late 2006 by Ethiopian troops backing Somalia’s transitional government.

However after the ICU was ousted from power, the waters off Somalia has become among the most dangerous in the world for shipping, and the country has re-descended into chaos.

 

US troops to return to Mideast

Palestinians to UN: Israel occupation must end in 2016

Assad: Countries that backed terrorism can't defeat jihadists

Libya militants vow to continue ‘military operations’

Foreign jihad lures Tunisia youth: About 3,000 in Syria alone

Skeptical Netanyahu seeks Obama reassurances on Iran

Turkey pushes for long-term solution to ‘Islamic State’ crisis

Metamorphosis of Salim Benghalem: From weed-smoking clubber to US-wanted jihadist

Violence across Iraq kills at least 1,119 people in September

Bahrain court lifts travel ban on Maryam al-Khawaja

Israel, Palestinians agree on one thing: Futility of peace talks

Netanyahu to Ban Ki-moon: Probe into Gaza war ‘one-sided’!

Kurds battle to defend strategic border town in Syria

Iran Nobel laureate questions Tutu's silence on Dalai Lama visa row

Iraqi Kurds hope US-led air strikes can break stalemate

Argentine President charges US could kill her

IS jihadists close in on Turkish border

Israel settlers forcefully occupy 25 homes in East Jerusalem

Gunmen wound Saudi policeman in Shiite village in Eastern Province

Erakat likens Netanyahu to leader of ‘Islamic State’

Voters to choose among 27 candidates in Tunisia presidential race

Iran offers military equipment to Lebanon army

Iran extends compulsory military service to 2 years

Frustration grows over Huthi occupation of Yemen capital

US-led air strikes pound ‘Islamic State’ near Syria border town

Britain plans action against extremism ‘in all its forms’

Vigilante groups terrorise Syria refugees in Lebanon

Kurd troops launch offensive on IS on three fronts

Balkans clamp down on jihadist recruitment

Syrian refugees try their luck in Latin America

Indian PM warns US to repeat Iraq 'mistake' in Afghanistan

Israel PM warns Iran poses gravest threat to world

Kuwait strips 18 nationals of citizenship

Ahead of Tunisia elections, Ghannouchi appeals for US support

Israel deploys extra forces as two faiths mark major holy days

Egypt, Libya plunge in good governance rating

Saudi Arabia breaks silence on Huthi occupation of Yemen capital

Air strikes fail to halt advance of IS jihadists in Syria

Rival Libya factions meet for reconciliation talks

Iran-P5+1 nuclear talks ‘to resume’ by mid-October

HRW criticises human rights rollback under Erdogan

Syria's Nusra Front chief warns to transfer battle to West

Obama admits to making serious mistake: We underestimated ‘Islamic State’

Germany begins training Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq

Jordan takes ‘precautionary measures’ to secure borders