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Middle East

Empire of piracy in the Gulf of Aden

Mohammed Al-Asaadi, The Media Line ( for eTN  Oct 08, 2008

SANA'A, Yemen (eTN) - Vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden remain vulnerable to interception by pirates, which poses a serious threat to international maritime security.

In the first three weeks of September at least eight incidents of piracy took place in the Gulf of Aden and dozens of crewmen were taken hostage.

On September 21 four pirates in three speedboats boarded a bulk carrier, hijacking the ship and taking hostage 19 crewmembers. Owners are unable to contact the ship, according to the daily updates from the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB).

The IMB reported that about 66 crewmen of different nationalities have been taken hostage and their vessels hijacked by Somali pirates in three weeks. In addition, four piracy attempts were averted as a result of immediate action by crewmembers and/or escorting coalition warships.

Officials in Somalia have confirmed that 10 ships are still being held by Somali pirates, who attack vessels on the northern Somali coast of the Gulf of Aden and in the Arabian Sea.

Pirates use speedboats and fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) in their attempts to board and hijack vessels, according to the IMB piracy report. Once the attack is successful and the vessel hijacked, the pirates sail towards the Somali coast and thereafter demand ransom for the release of the vessel and crew.

The prevalence of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden directly affects Yemen from the security and economic perspectives. Yemeni authorities have reacted to the phenomenon, though the interim federal government in Somalia does not have the capacity to do anything.

The Yemen government in early September decided to deploy 1,000 soldiers along with 16 military boats in the Gulf of Aden and its territorial waters. It is also conducting discussions with International Coalition Forces in the Horn of Africa to coordinate efforts and provide security for the maritime route.

In addition, Yemen has announced it is establishing three regional centers to counter piracy in Aden, in Mukalla on the Gulf of Aden and in Hodeidah on the Red Sea. The centers are expected to provide technical and security assistance to the ships passing through.

The head of the Coastguard Authority in Yemen, Ali Rasa'e, told The Media Line (TML) that these measures by the government were just proposals.

"Nothing has been put into action so far," Rasa'e said. "The scarcity of financial and technical resources forms a great impediment to the combating of piracy."

The interim federal government of Somalia and the government of the autonomous northern region of Puntland have been trying to get security support from the international community to battle piracy.

The minister of International Cooperation in the government of Puntland, Abdoh Ali Awali, told TML in a phone interview that an official delegation had conducted meetings with several Western and Arab embassies in Nairobi. The objective, according to Awali, was to generate international support to fight piracy.

Awali said that Puntland ‚Äď a region in northeastern Somalia that was declared an autonomous state in 1998 ‚Äď had no capacity to counter the escalating "international disaster."

"However, we are ready to put an end to this phenomenon if given international support," Awali said. "The pirates have sophisticated speedboats and weapons while we don't. They have made lots of money as a result of masters paying ransom money.

"We appeal to all masters not to pay any ransom to the pirates," Awali added.

The IMB welcomed UN Security Council resolution 1816 that allows states cooperating with the Somali government to use "all necessary means" to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with relevant provisions of international law.

However, the resolution does not appear to been applied so far.

Yemeni strategic analyst, Jalal Al-Sharabi described what was going in the Gulf of Aden as a "strategic game." Al-Sharabi told TML that the United States was not taking serious action against piracy, though it could.

"The US wants to control the Gulf of Aden from its military base in Djibouti and prevent any Iranian attempt to establish a coalition with any western African country. I believe this is an introduction to possibly tougher tension between the U.S. and Iran," he said.

Reporter on Somali affairs, Nabil Al-Osaidi, told TML that during the rule of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in Somalia, piracy was at its lowest.

"War lords in Somalia encourage piracy and hijacking as a form of creating wealth. Chaos and disorder in Somalia represent a threat to the entire Gulf region, starting with Yemen," Al-Osaidi said.

Security reporter Abdul-Hakim Hilal expressed concern that Al-Qa'ida might be behind the problems on the seas.

"A few weeks ago, Al-Qa'ida made a statement in Yemen threatening to shift its battlefield to the sea, and this might be it," Hilal told TML.

Since last January 34 tanker ships and yachts have been hijacked in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden; last year there were 25 hijackings.

Empire of piracy in the Gulf of Aden
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