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.

 

Egypt delays Gaza talks after Israeli soldier kidnap

Libya jihadists declare Benghazi ‘Islamic emirate’

Morocco king deplores unequal wealth distribution

US plans largest ever sale of lethal missiles to Iraq

Qatar invests in Israeli soccer

Lebanon suspends work permits for Ebola-hit countries

Emirates Airline suspends flights to Guinea

Baghdad bomb blasts kill at least ten

Identification of Air Algerie crash victims ‘could take years’

Philippines prepares to evacuate 13,000 citizens from Libya

Jihadists fight on more than one front in Syria

Sudan Christian woman chooses US as final destination to settle down

France moves to disband violent Jewish group

Chief of Iran Quds Force ridicules calls to disarm Hamas

US supports Israel with weapons, Gaza with sweet words

Syria Kurds battle jihadists killing nearly 50

West watches post-Gathafi Libya descend in chaos

Carnage in Gaza Strip as death toll passes 1,300

Mosul’s residents rise up against jihadists

Militants fire at Tunisia army helicopter

Islamists capture key Benghazi army base

16 killed in Israeli shelling of UN school in Gaza

Italian fire-fighting planes to come to Libya rescue

Syria rebels advance towards Hama military airport

Bloodshed in Gaza surges amid no truce

Major western powers call for Libya ceasefire

US-Israeli ties sink to new depths over Gaza war

UN warns buying oil from terrorists could lead to sanctions

Air Algerie crash black boxes sent to France

Warning of Tripoli catastrophe after huge oil depot blaze

US, UN call for immediate Gaza ceasefire

Egypt army kills 14 jihadists in restive Sinai Peninsula

Calls for temporary Gaza ceasefire fall on deaf ears

Yemen army foils new Qaeda attempt to seize military posts

Investigators need ‘few days’ to probe cause of Algeria plane crash

Tunisia army suffers more losses in open war with terrorism

Jihadists advance amid escalation in Syria anti-regime offensive

Iraq Shiite militia takes bloody revenge against ‘Islamic State’ in Baquba

Fierce clashes kill at least 38 people in Benghazi

Israel resumes devastating military assault on Gaza

Thousands face famine as food security situation worsens in Somalia

Death toll in Gaza climbs as fragile ceasefire reveals destruction

Egypt summons Turkey charge d'affaires for second time in one week

‘Islamic State’ jihadists dynamite Shiite shrine in Mosul

US evacuates embassy staff in Libya over ‘real risk’