Piracy off Somalia - Rizwan Asghar - Thursday, March 10, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=35420&Cat=9

The surging tide of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa has hit world headlines. Recently, four American who had been taken hostage aboard the yacht Quest off the coast of Oman. This incident marks the first time American citizens have been killed in pirate attacks. It is a matter of great concern that piracy is on the rise despite large-scale naval deployments in the Gulf of Aden. Last year there were more than 450 acts of piracy off the Horn of Africa and pirates extracted a whopping $238 million in ransoms.

Piracy has always been a threat to seafarers. In 75 BC Julius Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. The Barbary pirates operated from North Africa preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean beginning in the 16th century. In the modern age, this threat has increased because of the oil trade via marine routes. The Today’s pirates are steadily widening their areas of operation, s further from their traditional hunting ground. They are also extending their reach deeper into the Indian Ocean through the use of captured commercial vessels.

Over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through the Gulf of Aden, which is at risk from Somali pirates. So this problem demands urgent attention. The root causes of Somali piracy are poverty and growing despondency among the inhabitants, which has resulted in chaos and incessant civil war since 1991. Somalia has split into four autonomous mini-states, administered by different groups.

The US bears the main responsibility for the current anarchy in the country.

Somalia achieved a semblance of stability in 2005 when a moderate movement, the Islamic Courts Union, came into power. But this was unacceptable to the United States. Ethiopia’s interest also was to keep its neighbour divided. Thus, with US military support, Ethiopia engineered an invasion of Somalia and overthrew the government. Later on, Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia, which left the country in complete disarray, and there is no one to put an effective check on these buccaneers.

Following the disintegration of the last regular government of Somalia in 1991, international commercial companies had started dumping toxic wastes into the country’s territorial waters and foreign fishing vessels began poaching on its exclusive economic zone. In order to safeguard their rights local fishermen organised themselves in small groups and attacked foreign vessels. Gradually this degenerated into piracy.

The 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea introduced the concept of “hot pursuit” for the curbing of piracy. Article 100 of the convention states: “All states shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any state.” The courts of the state seizing the ship have been invested with the authority to decide the “penalties to be imposed” and action to be taken in regard to the vessel. But all these laws have proved a dead letter.

There is need to formulate a concerted plan to strike at the root of the problem of piracy. The chaos in Somalia, coupled with the increasing unemployment there, encourages jobless youth to join the pirates. The major powers must join hands to establish a United Naval Force assigned with the task of patrolling more piracy-prone areas of the oceans. As far as Somalia is concerned, the UN must gear up its efforts to promote stability in the country by making efforts for the installation of a stable government there which not only enjoys the support of the local population but takes steps to ease the Somali people’s sufferings.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo.com

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