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There are some expectations that piracy in the Gulf of Aden is about to tail off for a bit. It appears that pirates don’t like rough weather any more than anyone else does.
Exclusive Analysis, a political risk consultancy, has conducted a detailed study of incidences of maritime hijacking in order to give its insurer clients the heads up about when and under what circumstances piracy is most likely to occur. It has told the International Underwriting Association of London that the arrival of the monsoon in the Gulf of Aden about now usually keeps pirates on shore. Not so for Somalia, where the waters are generally calmer at the moment. Technically, it is when the Sea Scale hits 5 or 6, that is, rough to very rough.
Weather was not the only factor thrown up by the study when it comes to keeping pirates at bay. Among an array of conditions, it found that ships that have freeboards — the distance from waterline to deck — of six metres or more have a lesser chance of being hijacked.
One pirate ship, apparently, was found with a five metre ladder on board — a hint as to how far they are prepared to go, or at least climb.
With the naval might of the United States, Europe, China and others now lined up against Somalia’s pirate fraternity, shippers are hoping the nightmare year of 2008 will not be repeated.
Somali pirates — mainly gangs of poor young men seeking a quick fortune under the direction of older “financiers” and boat leaders – reaped tens of millions of dollars in ransoms last year in a record haul of 42 hijacks, 111 attacks, and 815 crew taken hostage.
That pushed insurance prices up, persuaded some ship-owners to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal, and prompted the unprecedented rush of navies from 14 different nations to the region. Even China is in on the act, deploying its navy for the first time beyond its own waters. And Japan is considering following suit despite its post-World War II pacifist constitution.
There have been some early successes from all the deployments – half a dozen pirates arrested and a series of attacks blocked, by helicopter and boat. Bad weather, too, has given the pirates some real problems, drowning five of them when their pockets were stuffed with dollars after taking their share of the ransom from the release of a Saudi super-tanker.
Yet the pirates have still managed two new hijacks and 11 attacks in the first half of January. They are hanging on to 11 ships with 207 hostages – most notably a Ukrainian ship with tanks on board.
And with such a vast area of operations — plus fancy new speedboats that have taken them as far as Kenya and Madagascar, and GPS equipment to keep away from the warships — the pirates are confident of keeping their business going. So who will win this modern-day battle of the seas? Will the shipping industry lose as much to the pirates this year as they did last? Should they keep paying huge ransoms like the $3 million paid for the Saudi boat?
Maybe, some argue, it will never really be possible to eradicate such a lucrative business which, in one of the world’s most failed states, offers an opportunity for poor and hungry men to become millionaires after a few successful raids. As one pirate told us, they will carry on until there is government again in Somalia.
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.