African business, politics and lifestyle
Somalia’s mean sealanes
It’s the stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster to rival Ridley Scott’s 2001 thriller “Black Hawk Down”: A bunch of 50 Somali pirates in speedboats and heavily armed with grenade launchers clamber aboard a Ukranian ship in the Gulf of Aden. They overwhelm the 20-man crew and take control of the ship and its dubious cargo of 33 battle tanks, supposedly destined for the Kenyan military. Six days later and with US navy ships stalking, a shootout breaks out on board among the pirates, killing three.
The hijacking of the MV Faina is only the most high-profile of what is turning into the biggest scourge of sea piracy in modern times. According to the International Maritime Bureau, presumed Somali pirates have attacked more than 60 ships in the area this year. It’s piracy alert website reported on Sept. 26 that four ships had been attacked in the Gulf of Aden within a 48-hour period.
Somali pirates taking advantage of chaos onshore, where an Islamist insurgency has raged for nearly two years, have intensified attacks this year on vessels plying the main water route linking Asia and the Middle East to Europe. Somalia has been a dysfunctional state since 1991. The upsurge in piracy has sent shipping insurance costs soaring tenfold, according to Lloyds List, and prompting shipowners to call for tougher international action. The alternative would be rerouting sea trade through the Cape of Good Hope, adding thousands of miles to the journey.
An international coalition of 19 states has been scrambling to keep the waterways in the region safe, but its own warships run the risk of deadly attack. France has been championing international action against Somali pirates. It sent its commandos twice this year to rescue its yachts seized in the region and is now spearheading United Nations action to deal with piracy.
What should be the correct international response to the problem? Should the world’s big powers increase their military presence in the Gulf of Aden to protect vital sea lanes? How should the international community address the fundamental issue of chaos in Somalia itself? Can piracy in the region be contained without a solution to the Somali crisis?