Somalia, piracy, Le Ponant, pirates
Aijaz Rahi/AP

Somali Pirates Strike Again; Russia Sends Warship to Join Fight

September 26, 2008 01:36 PM
by Emily Coakley
The pirate-filled waters off of Somalia have brought Russia into the fight, now that a Ukrainian arms shipment has gone missing.

A Strike Against Piracy

A Russian warship has joined the fight against a rash of pirate seizures plaguing the waters off of Somalia, with more than 30 vessels captured this year, including a Ukrainian ship carrying arms and 33 tanks. That ship’s disappearance was announced by officials Friday.

The tanks, bound for Kenya, were a part of a reportedly legal sale between the two governments. Three of the missing ship’s crewmembers are Russian.

The Russian warship is being sent to help combat a rash of pirate attacks in the waters off the Somali coast. Canadian naval vessels have already been patrolling the region to provide support to United Nations food deliveries, which have been victims of pirate attacks. And earlier this month, an unknown vessel believed to be American captured 14 pirates and destroyed their ship.

In August, pirates hijacked Iranian and Japanese ships, part of a string of recent ship hijackings in the area.

A combination of location, opportunity and motivation has led to a surge in piracy off Somalia. The country has Africa’s longest coastline, approximately 2,000 miles, according to Bloomberg. That coastline is near the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal, which lead into the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Europe to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The government has struggled for years with warring clans and has no navy, according to USA Today.

Extreme poverty has played a role. Christian Bedford called piracy the country’s biggest industry, and said it started in 1991, when the “last semblance of truly national governance” fell apart. Pirates are part of organized, extensive criminal organizations and earn $10,000 to $30,000 annually in a country where the average person earns $600 in the same period.
“At the end of the day, you hijack a ship, you get paid ransom,” said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center, in an interview earlier this year with USA Today. “These pirates aren’t frightened because the returns are so big.”

Background: UN, other nations trying to help

Earlier this year, the United Nations passed a resolution, blessed by Somalia’s transitional government, to let foreign governments’ ships to patrol their waters for six months.

But some say the resolution hasn’t been effective. Pottengal Mukundan, director of Commercial Crime Services for the International Chamber of Commerce, told NPR, “The U.N. resolution has done nothing to prevent these attacks.”

Bedford, a senior analyst and acting program manager at Maritime Forces Pacific for the Canadian Navy, wrote about his thoughts on the situation earlier this month. He said it won’t be enough for foreign ships to patrol Somalia’s waters, and encouraged Western governments to recognize Puntland and Somaliland, two regions “which have operated independently from Mogadishu’s rule for nearly twenty years and have been on the frontlines of Somalia’s struggles with piracy.”

Recognizing those areas, he said, will strengthen them, bring law and order to those areas, and drive the pirates further south, “thereby making it easier for coalition forces to focus on them through the Security Council’s recent resolution.” A stable, functioning, effective government is the answer for stopping piracy, he said. 

Related Topic: Le Ponant hijacking


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