The International Writers Magazine: Piracy
What is the world doing to control the Somali Pirates?
Marianne de Nazareth
Every once in a while for a week there will be stories on CNN IBN, the BBC, or in our regular mainstream print media about a ship being attacked off the coast of Somalia and taken hostage.
The TV story focuses on wives and mothers, desperate to get their husbands and sons back and released from the clutches of these violent pirates. We listen and watch and then forget about it as it does not really concern us. We click our tongues at the pain and torture inflicted on the sailors and say the government should do something, then the issue is shelved in our minds. Somalia is a failed state and this is an easy way for criminal elements to use force on our defenceless ships.
At the recent International Transport Forum 2011 in Leipzig there was a side event on the ‘Launch of ICC call for action on Piracy’ (International Chamber of Commerce). The CTL (Commission on Transport and Logistics) from the ICC launched a world wide call for action on piracy. Here I was in a room which had hardly any interested journalists or media professionals, and that is when I wondered at the reason. Usually all side events, even those as simple as ‘Peak transport: Is there a saturation in demand?’ had a hall full of interested participants.
Why then was such a serious issue as modern day piracy on the high seas not something the whole world should be supportive of in condeming? Considering the numbers and the frequency of attacks it was a strange paradox to see the lack of interest. Last year, ICC’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 219 attacks off Somalia in which 49 vessels were hijacked and 1,016 crew members were taken hostage. Between January 1st and May 2011 Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB, London said, “ There have been 120 attacks by Somali pirates, 21 vessels hijacked, 362 crew taken hostage and 7 killed.”
He showed us horrific pictures of the pirates causing bodily harm to the crew and they were armed with highly sophisticated weapons.
“The hijackers capture one ship a week now coming out of the Arabian Gulf carrying crude oil and hold them for upto 7-8 months depleting the entire food and water supply, holding the crew manacled in shocking conditions.” There is damage to the ship, violence perpetrated on the crew including extreme torture tactics and they are willing to hold out for months for the crazy ransom demands they forcibly extract. “The Indian navy has come out in support with strong action against the pirates and the ICC has made a call for unifed and robust action by all International navies and governments to stop these attacks,” said Mukundan in a fervent appeal.
John Alexander the senior Vice-President of JM Baxi and Co of Mumbai said, “India is a major maritime nation and 95% of India’s trade moves by sea. A joint concerted action by the ICC is the only way forward and the world has to help stamp out the problem. Governments are very slow in reacting and most countries only patrol the waters they do not seize the ships and clear them of the pirates. We need pre-emptive concerted action, not just rapping them on the knuckles and letting them off to go back to attacking other ships. The industry does not want to arm ships but unless there is a trained military team on board owners, do not want their ships to go out totally vulnerable to attack. Somalia has 1700 km of coastline and can hold our ships for 6-8 months and coerce owners to give in to their demands.”
The Director of the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Shipping Federation, London - Simon Bennett said, “ There is an utter sense of anger through the shipping industry about this scourge of piracy. In the last few months seafarers are refusing to sail without the arming of ships. Governments across the world are complacent and that can be seen as a reflection on the nationality of the sailors. ( read Asian) There are no Europeans in the hijacked vessels. The Indian Ocean needs to be policed and governments need to take more stern action. The cost of this piracy on the industry is between US $ 7 to US $ 12 billion in 2010.”
The latest figures as of 5th June are:
Worldwide: attacks 232, hijackings 25, hostages 394, killed 7
Somalia: attacks 145, hijackings 21, hostages 362, killed 7.
Currently held in Somalia: 24 vessels with over 470 crew held hostage.
What the ICC asks for from International governments and the UN:
- Improve the rules of engagement given to naval vessels in the area, and focus on locating, shadowing and disrupting the operation of motherships in order to reduce the operating scope of the pirates and continue support and increase the number of naval vessels and personnel on anti-piracy operations in the area.
- Refocus the efforts of the UN and other international bodies to ensure that institutions which are required to amintain the economic, health, cultural and social standards of a country are built in south central Somalia to prevent that part of the country from being exploited by criminals and pirates.
- Ensure that piracy suspects are swiftly brought to justice and not sent back to Somalia without being held accountable for their crimes.
Further, the use of hijacked ocean going vessels as motherships by pirates has enabled pirate attacks far beyond the Somali coastline. The ICC says this will lead to higher levels of hijacking through 2011.
© Marianne de Nazareth June 10th 2011
(The writer is a media fellow of the ITF 2011)
Former Asst. Editor The Deccan Herald
Adjunct faculty St. Joseph's College & COMMITS