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Pirates Of The Lawless Somalia
People gather near a rescued Spanish boat at Port Victoria after it was released off Somalia where it had been captured by pirates last April.
by J Peter Pham
May 8, 2008 – On April 4, MY Le Ponant, an 850-ton three-masted luxury sailing yacht owned by a French firm headed by Lebanese-born businessman Jacques Saadé was en route from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean when it was seized in international waters in the Gulf of Aden by Somali pirates.
A week later, after the owners had paid a ransom reported to be around $2 million, Le Ponant docked at the port of Eyl in the semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland and the 30 crew members – 22 Frenchmen, six Filipinos, a Cameroonian, and a Ukrainian were released.
French forces, however, tracked the attackers to the nearby fishing village of Jariban where helicopter-borne commandos disabled the escape vehicle with sniper fire and seized six of what is thought to have been an original band of 12 fugitives. The six prisoners were flown to Paris where they were arraigned before a French court on charges of theft, hijacking, and hostage-taking.
The incident was hardly Eyl’s debut as a latter-day pirate haven or the last attack emanating from Africa’s longest coastline, the 2,285-kilometre-long littoral of Somalia (the de facto Republic of Somaliland has another 740 kilometers of coast, most of which is on the Red Sea).
Just two months earlier, on February 1, a brand-new Danish-owned icebreaker en route to the Russian Far East, MV Svitzer Korsakov, was likewise seized off the Puntland coast and brought to dock at Eyl where its six-member international crew – a British captain, an Irish engineer, and four Russians sailors – was held hostage for 47 days until the owners paid a ransom of $1.6 million.
Barely a week later, on April 20, a Basque tuna fishing boat, the FV Playa de Bakio, was seized along with its 26 crew members – 13 Spanish citizens and 13 African nationals.
Not only are the attacks increasing in frequency, but they have also evolved into more tactically sophisticated operations involving faster attack craft – some purchased with the proceeds of earlier successful attacks – working at ever-greater distances thanks to GPS and other new technologies.
The recent attacks are yet another a reminder not only of the threat to international security presented by the vacuum of the former Somali state – Somaliland, as I have repeatedly recalled, being an exception – but also of the irresponsible unrealism of current approaches to coping with it.
Furthermore, the fact that many of the recent attacks come from Puntland, the traditional fief of Abdillahi Yusuf’s Darod clan-family, raises serious questions not only about whether the TFG’s capo is even interested in curbing the problem, but whether many close to him might not be directly profiting.
When he was self-proclaimed president of Puntland, an Italian-owned fishing trawler, the MV Bahari One, was twice seized by the region’s militia and brought to Eyl before being ransomed by its owners.
Currently, the United States and France are working together to draft a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing any responsible government to arrest the Somali attackers – even within the collapsed state’s territorial waters – and to prosecute them.
While such a measure would go a long way towards both resolving the legal loophole created by the international-recognised TFG’s lack of effective authority and overcoming the scruples of the Whitehall mandarins of British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it leaves unaddressed the two more basic questions.
First, safeguarding vital shipping lanes like those near the Horn of Africa requires the commitment of adequate forces to actually conduct maritime security operations (MSO) there.
Second, there is little point in addressing the challenge of “piracy” off the Somali coast if one is unwilling to confront the lack of legitimate and effective government which is at root of the problem.
The problems created by a political and legal vacuum like the one resulting from state failure in Somalia are manifold and complex. Dealing with them will require resolute determination, adequate force, and, above all, an objective appreciation of the realities faced as the responsible governments of the region and the world together confront head-on – as they must – the growing threat to both mariners and their vessels.
In today’s globalized world, connected as it is by sea lanes, unruly waters represent as significant a security challenge as any ungoverned lands.
Mr Pham is the director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Source: Security & Family