Government will crackdown on piracy: Somalia Minister

A British couple kidnapped by pirates off the coast of the Seychelles are reportedly being held about 320 km north of the Somali capital Mogadishu. 
Speaking in London, Somalia’s prime minister said his government will do everything within its means to end piracy off its coast. But analysts say much has to change in Somalia before piracy can be halted.

Speaking in London, the prime minister of Somalia’s transitional government, Omar Sharmarke, said his government “will do everything it can” to return the British couple to safety.

He said his government will work hard to end piracy, but he said the problem of poverty will first have to be tackled.  “Many of these pirates were once fisherman and will be so again given the chance.  A return to profitable healthy fishing can lead people out of piracy in the central and north regions,” he said.

He called for foreign governments to help Somalia tackle poverty by investing in the country.  And he said what he called illegal fishing in Somalia’s waters must stop.  “I shall not name names, but suffice to say many countries are fishing illegally in Somalia waters.  We estimate the value of the fish being taken from our waters is hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” he said.

According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, there was a significant upsurge in piracy in 2008.  Worldwide, the number of pirate attacks increased by 11 %, and the bureau said the boom came from the Gulf of Aden, the stretch of the Arab Sea separating Somalia from Yemen.

Of almost 300 pirate attacks the maritime organization recorded for 2008, more than 100 took place on the high seas off Somalia’s coast.

Marine Director of the International Chamber of Shipping Peter Hinchcliffe told VOA the number of attacks is increasing.  He says an attack takes place everyday, with two or three ships taken hostage every week.

Mohamed Abshir Waldo, a Kenya-based analyst of Somali origin, believes a solution can be found. “I think a solution to end this piracy, or to reduce it significantly, is possible and it should be done with [the] cooperation of the local community, while at the same time addressing the root causes of the problem,” he said.

The European Green Party has also accused European companies of using Somalia’s shoreline as a dump site for the disposal of toxic waste.  The United Nations Environment Program said many inhabitants of towns in northeast Somalia suffered from diseases consistent with radiation sickness following a Tsunami in 2004 that may have stirred up tons of nuclear and toxic waste.

But other analysts say the story is not so complex.

Peter Lehr is a piracy and terrorism specialist at Britain’s University of St Andrews.  He says the battle against illegal fishing and toxic waste is no longer what drives piracy. “You find quite a lot of stories where Somali fishermen were harassed [by] patrollers, their nets destroyed, their equipment destroyed, their boats rammed.  So it started as self-defense, but I think some operators, they realized very quickly that with piracy you can earn much more money than you can as a descent fisherman.  Now-a-days I would not say it’s connected with illegal fishing any longer, that is just a cheap excuse,” he said.

He says in the short term, the most effective way to combat piracy is with military force.

An extensive international fleet of small warships is currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden. The US-led coalition known as the Combined Maritime Forces features ships from at least 20 navies.

But he says in the long-run the solution to piracy will not be found at sea, but on land.  “In the longer run you can only curb piracy if you address the root causes on land.  You see, even piracy is a land-driven problem.  It is basically a lack of law and order there.  As soon as you create coast guards and re-establish police forces at the coast, piracy will sooner or later go away,” he said.

He says progress is being made in parts of Somalia.  He says a crackdown in the semi-autonomous Puntland region has meant the prisons are full of pirates. “You see already parts of Somalia turning against piracy.  You see also fishing communities forming vigilante groups to oust pirates because fishermen, and there are still descent fishermen there, are caught in the cross-fire between pirates and warships.  So the gulf of Aden may well become a more safer area in the near future,” he said.

But he warns that some of Somalia’s pirates are shifting their attentions from the Gulf of Aden and instead sailing further out in the Indian Ocean.

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, the number of piracy attacks reported this year will far exceed those for 2008.  As of September 23, 2009, 294 pirate incidents had been reported, with 97 occurring in the Gulf of Aden and 47 off of the remaining coasts of Somalia.

Pic: Somali pirate onboard a ship