Police in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland have arrested 11 pirates and recovered rifles, a heavy machinegun and a truck, the region’s authorities said.
Somali pirate gangs typically seize ships in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, holding their cargo and crews for ransom. They have raked in an estimated US$150 million in ransoms, security analysts say, in what has become a highly organised, international criminal enterprise.
“On Sunday morning … PMPF (Puntland Maritime Police Force) captured 11 pirates in a security operation in Hafun District,” Puntland’s Security Ministry said in a statement.
“The pirates arrested … include Mohamed Mohamud Mohamed Hassan (Dhafoor), who is a well-known pirate wanted by Puntland authorities for hijacking commercial vessels travelling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden waterways,” it said.
The ministry said the police also recovered a Toyota truck, seven AK-47 assault rifles and one heavy machinegun.
The statement said Hassan was part of a gang that killed five members of Puntland’s security forces during an operation to rescue a kidnapped Danish family last year.
As of May 18, there have been 145 pirate attacks around the world this year, resulting in 17 hijackings, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Somali pirates have been responsible for 59 incidents and 12 hijackings, capturing 188 hostages this year. Somali pirates currently hold 13 vessels and 200 hostages.
In the last ten days there have been three attempted hijackings off Somalia, but all were unsuccessful – in two cases this was due to armed security on board the merchant vessels, according to International Maritime Bureau figures.
Despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea owing to the vast distances involved.
The hijack success rate for Somali pirates has dropped sharply in recent months, due in part to more merchant ships turning to armed security guards, razor wire and water cannons to protect themselves.
It has long been said that piracy is best tackled from land and that if pirate bases are destroyed, they will not be able to put to sea at all. South Africa’s Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu during the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in Cape Town last month said that maritime insecurity has its roots on land and that the socio-economic situations of countries home to pirates – like Somalia – need to be taken into consideration.
“A single military maritime response will achieve little on its own,” she said. “Essentially, the broader focus needs to direct itself to addressing not only symptoms such as maritime crime, but also to address itself to the root causes, such as ongoing instability, lack of good governance, lack of viability of the local economy and poverty and continued underdevelopment.”
In a landmark move, on May 15 European Union naval aircraft attacked pirate installations on the Somali coastline for the first time since its mandate was expanded earlier this year.
“We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on, and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows,” Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force (EU Navfor), Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, said in a statement.
The operation follows a decision taken on March 23 by the Council of the European Union to allow the EU Naval Force to take disruption action against known pirate supplies on the shore.
Before then, the force had operated in Somalia’s territorial and internal waters. The extension to Somali coastal territory – land along the country’s coastline – is aimed at enabling Operation Atalanta to work directly with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and other Somali entities in their fight against piracy from the coastal area. An EU official said that the force would still only operate at sea and in the air, though could now target pirates’ weaponry and other equipment on land.