Amidst a score of news reports on the raging fight against piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa comes an interesting signal from the regional government of Puntland in Somalia: The regional security minister of the Somali semi-autonomous government, General Yusuf Ahmed Kheyr, said in a press conference on Saturday that his administration has lost patience with the pirates and vows to increase anti-piracy operations in the unpatrolled waters of the troubled region.
Kheyr emphasised the government’s growing resentment of the Somali pirates because their actions reportedly have placed a stranglehold on the Somali people. “We are going to begin large anti-pirate operations in the waters under our control and we will do our utmost to defeat the buccaneers,” Puntland’s security minister said during the press conference in Bosasso, a town about 1505 kilometres northeast of the capital.
The minister further explained: “You know they have abducted many commercial boats loading goods for Somalia. That is what caused us to take the hard decision against pirates whom we know are going to cause more problems for the Somali people, who already are fed up with the endless civil wars, poverty and insecurity.”
According to Shafi’i Abokar, defpro.com Special Correspondent for Somalia, Kheyr denied speculations that some of the Puntland authorities have close relations with the pirates, saying that Puntlanders, including government officials and ordinary people, will all take part in the major combat against piracy off its coasts.
International efforts seem to yield fruit
While the international community has so far effectively protected ships of the UN World Food Program as well as individual merchant ships and convoys, the pirates have repeatedly proven their ability to successfully capture ships and negotiate ransoms amounting to millions of dollars. Nevertheless, international naval task forces patrolling the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, such as the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 or the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), Somalia now sees a growing success in their efforts to protect ships against pirate attacks.
Within the framework of the European Union Operation Atalanta, according to EU NAVFOR, more than 140 pirates have been disarmed and 25 so-called pirate action groups (PAGs) have been disrupted. The European command further states that three PAGs were disrupted in coordination with the Seychelles Coast Guard and two PAGs with other Task Forces (NATO and Combined Maritime Forces) operating in the region.
In light of this success, Kheyr called on the international community to help his government defeat the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia and especially in the northeastern Somali waters. Compared to the war-torn south-central Somali regions, Puntland is more peaceful. However, the region remains a hot bed of notorious pirates, human traffickers, drug dealers, money counterfeiters and other criminals. Kheyr also lauded a recent meeting between himself and US officials which reportedly saw good results in terms of cooperation in the fight against piracy.
The most recent example of the effective work of the international task forces in the region’s waters occurred yesterday when the German MS Taipan was freed by the Dutch Navy. As the Dutch Defence Ministry announced on Monday, a boarding team roped onto the ship from a helicopter of the Dutch frigate HNLMS Tromp after negotiations with the pirates failed. The team arrested ten pirates and freed the crew which hid in the ship’s safety room. Among a number of reports in recent days displaying the international community’s success has been the interception of suspected pirates by the flagship of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, USS Farragut (DDG 99), proving effective cooperation of EU NAVFOR forces (including a Swedish maritime patrol aircraft) and US ships (see http://www.defpro.com/news/details/14270/).
Still, too many successful attacks jeopardise effective deterrence
The pirate activities which emerged from the littoral waters around the Horn of Africa now span large sea areas from Indian waters to the Red Sea. Therefore, the international naval forces, including ships from the US, NATO and EU members, China, Russia, South Korea and others, are faced with the challenge of controlling an extensive area and some of the world’s most busy shipping lanes. As the naval vessels concentrate on the latter, the Somali pirates still have enough opportunities to capture individual merchant vessels. As recently as Sunday morning, pirates seized a South Korean crude oil tanker in the Indian Ocean (see http://www.defpro.com/news/details/14324/). Furthermore, late March saw the hijacking of a Panama-flagged, a Bermuda-flagged as well as a Maltese cargo ship. In addition, a number of captured vessels have been released after ransoms were paid by the owners.
Thus, a positive assessment of the general situation may be overhasty. As long as the pirates’ activities yield comparable success, the news of skiffs and pirate action groups being “swept away” by international naval forces will not change the situation in the region. A closer co-operation with the Puntland government might make the difference, as it may open a door towards solving the roots of the problem.
By Shafi’i Abokar and Nicolas von Kospoth