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Somalia’s mean sealanes


somalia_pirates_troops.jpgIt’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.

“Intelligence sources revealed that there are now three suspicious vessels in the Gulf of Aden believed to be pirate mother vessels looking to attack ships with the intent to hijack,” it said.somalia_pirates_bossasso.jpg

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.