Piracy on international waters

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The United Nations targets Somalian pirate operations

Ed Kapp
News Writer

Last Thursday, after a particularly productive year for Somali pirates, the United Nations’ maritime agency announced they will be picking up their efforts to curb piracy off the Horn of Africa in the near future.

Following the removal of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia endured a brutal civil war that spanned 15 years and accounted for an estimated 400,000 deaths. Somalia’s already precarious Transitional Federal Government [TFG] controls only a fraction of the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, and some territory in the center of the nation. Now, they are losing substantial control of the state to rebel forces.

Somalia’s instability and nearly-wiped economy has caused the lucrative piracy industry to flourish off the nation’s coast in recent years.

Running highly-sophisticated operations, where high-tech equipment like GPS and satellite phones are used, Somalian pirates have traditionally been armed with both AK-47 machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Allegedly working on tip-offs from contacts in the Gulf of Aden, the pirates have generally approached unsuspecting ships, often at night, aboard speedboats or, in some instances, much larger “pirate mother-ships”.

Using grappling hooks and ladders, Somali pirates board their targeted ship, gain control of the vessel, and navigate it to the pirate hub town Eyl. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, there are currently 30 ships being held in Somalia.

From that point, the ships – along with the sailors aboard – are held for large ransoms from their respective countries. Although estimates have varied, it is assumed that the Somalian piracy industry has collected roughly $300 million from the start of 2009 through 2010.

With a lack of a strong central government, and very little means to prosecute alleged pirates, Somalia has proven inept at curbing their piracy problem. Moreover, many have argued that members of Somalia’s TFG have colluded with the nation’s piracy industry.

According to a recently-leaked U.S. State Department cable, in 2008, after escorting food-aid ships off the Horn of Africa, Canadian Navy Captain Chris Dickinson reported to diplomats, “The vessel’s commanding officer noted that there is clear evidence of collusion between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and pirates in Somali waters.”

In an attempt to essentially take matters into their own hands, the UN will soon be launching a new anti-piracy program.

“Piracy seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it,” Ki-moon explained in an address at the launch of the International Maritime Organization’s [IMO] initiative in London, England.

In response to Somalia’s expanding piracy industry, the UN has appointed a special adviser to periodically meet with the IMO –  a specialized agency of the UN whose primary purpose is “to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping” – the shipping community, and seafarer organizations. 

Last week, Efthimios Mitropoulos, the IMO’s general secretary, outlined his organization’s six-point plan to help curb piracy.   

The plan calls to increase political pressure to secure the release of the over 700 hostages currently held by Somalian pirates, review and improve IMO guidelines to administrations and seafarers, and promote stricter compliance with industry practices. It also calls to promote a greater degree of support and co-ordination with navies operating in the region, promote anti-piracy co-ordination and co-operation procedures between different states, regions, organizations, and industry, and to provide care for piracy victims and their families.

Additionally, the plan loosely outlined what type of repercussions will face alleged pirates if they are caught.
Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, offered that the international community wanted to see “fair and efficient trials in Somalia and in regional countries.”

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