Experts seek stability in Somalia to check piracy (Lead)

November 21st, 2008 - 3:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Dubai, Nov 21 (IANS) The spate of ship hijacks off Somalia not only calls for global naval efforts in the region but also underlines the need to bring stability to that country, say experts.The present situation also offers a good opportunity for regional cooperation as well, diplomats and shipping industry officials said.

“Apart from joint efforts by different navies, the situation offers a golden opportunity for regional cooperation to help bring stability to Somalia,” an Indian diplomat well versed with the region told IANS.

“The country has broken down and there is no government institution in place,” he added.

Located on the Horn of Africa, Somalia has not had an effective central government since president Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 by forces comprising different clans in the country’s northern and southern regions who were backed by Ethiopia.

Continuous civil wars since then and an invasion by Ethiopia in 2006 have left the country lawless, not at all conducive for international bodies to operate in.

“The time has come for the international community to come together and stabilise Somalia. You have to look at the source of the piracy.

“This is a golden opportunity for regional cooperation. By that, I mean Africa, West and South Asia,” the diplomat said.

Explaining the phenomenon of piracy in the region, he said: “Somalis are basically seafaring people. With the country having broken down, many turned to piracy in the seas. And as cargo ships are not guarded - they do not carry any weapons - these become easy and soft targets.”

According to the most recent figures of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, in 2008 there have been 92 attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia. Of this, 36 have been successful hijackings.

The pirates captured a Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star, a week ago while it carried crude worth over $100 million. The hijackers have reportedly demanded $25 million in ransom.

As of now, according to reports, pirates are holding as many as 17 vessels with over 300 crewmembers on board.

The Indian Navy repulsed an attack by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden Wednesday, destroying a pirate ‘mother ship’. This led to renewed calls for joint naval efforts in the region.

“The international community has not taken enough and quick measures to tackle the pirates,” complained George Katout of the Dubai office of Barry Rogliano Salles, a Paris-headquartered ship broking company.

“What the Indian Navy did was normal. But you must remember there are many non-Indian ships plying on those waters,” he said, adding that these ships carried many Indian crewmembers too.

India provides one-sixth of the workers in the global maritime industry.

According to the Indian diplomat, the stage is perfectly set for a joint pro-active action by the naval forces of India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the three worst sufferers of piracy.

“India is well placed to lead such a joint force because, one, we are a victim; two, our navy is already on location; and three, we have the firepower. Also, the sea over there is vast and this is why patrolling the entire area is very difficult,” he said.

Meanwhile, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said Thursday that New Delhi was keen on a “collaborative” arrangement with other countries to take on piracy in that strategic region. He said the navy was also considering the option of aerial policing to protect merchant ships.

The Gulf of Aden is vital for global trade and economy. Around 30 vessels owned by Indian companies pass through the Gulf every month carrying oil and goods worth over $100 billion. Around $450,000 are being lost every month due to piracy.

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