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Media day aboard Spanish war ship MV CANARIAS in the Mombasa Port

13 February 2011 13 February 2011 Tags: , No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

EU Naval Boat F86-Canarias. Photo by Abdul Azziz Billow

Piracy off the Somali coast has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the Somali Civil War in the early 21st century. Piracy has contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid shipments.  Since 2005, many international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme (WFP), have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy. Ninety percent of the WFP’s shipments arrive by sea, and ships in this area now require a military escort.

On Wednesday the 2nd February 2011 the EUNAVFOR took a group of Somali journalists on a short cruise on board some of the warships in the European coast of Somalia. Journalists were invited by the European Naval Forces in the port city of Mombasa to participate in a cruise designed to inspect the situation in the region and showcase the progress made so far by the EU forces in their mission against Somali pirates. Admiral Juan Rodriguez, the Commander of the EUNAVFOR and its troops explained in details what is entailed in a marine expedition in the Somalia territorial waters and the challenges that they face on a daily basis from the Somalia pirates. The EU Naval force are tasked with combating piracy.

“In an event of us lacking a country willing to try the Somalia pirates, we take them a shore and free them”
- Admiral Juan Rodriguez

Ship in Somali Harbor. Photo by Abdul Azziz Billow

A United Nations reports and several news sources have suggested that piracy off the coast of Somalia is caused in part by illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters by foreign vessels that have, according to Somali fishermen, severely constrained the ability of locals to earn a living and forced many to turn to piracy instead. Analysts have also alleged that 70 percent of the local coastal communities “strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters”, and that the pirates believe they are protecting their fishing grounds and exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen.

Some pirates have suggested that, in the absence of an effective national coast guard following the outbreak of the Somali Civil War and the subsequent disintegration of the Armed Forces, they became pirates in order to protect their waters. This belief is also reflected in the names taken on by some of the pirate networks, such as the National Volunteer Coast Guard (NVCG). Some reports have also accused some government officials in Somalia of complicity with the pirates, with authorities from the Gal Mudug administration in the north-central Hobyo district reportedly attempting to use pirate gangs as a bulwark against Islamist insurgents from the nation’s southern conflict zones.

The Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting Somali piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden. The increasing threat posed by piracy was also caused concern in India since most of its shipping trade routes pass through the Gulf of Aden. The Indian Navy responded to these concerns by deploying a warship in the region on 23 October 2008.

Abdul Azziz Billow with Naval Officers

In September 2008, Russia announced that it too would join international efforts to combat piracy. However, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, both the former and current administrations of the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia appear to be more actively involved in combating piracy. Measures taken to tacle the piracy problem include on-land raids on pirate hideouts, and the construction of a new naval base in conjunction with Saracen International, a UK-based security company.

By the first half of 2010, increased policing efforts by Somali government authorities on land and international naval vessels at sea reportedly contributed to a drop in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden from 86 attacks a year to 33, thereby forcing pirates to shift attention to other areas such as the Somali Basin and the wider Indian Ocean.

According to Ecoterra, as of mid-November 2010, more than 500 crew members and at least 31 foreign vessels remain in the hands of Somali pirates. As of December 11, 2010, Somali pirates are holding at least 35 ships with more than 650 hostages.

Abdulaziz Billow – Afrobeatradio East Africa Correspondent

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