“Navigate 100 nautical miles away from Somalia coast to avoid possible pirate attacks, ” NATO Shipping Centre advised international shipping liners.
By Dr Kamarulnizam Abdullah
This is part one of a two-part article looking at the continuing threats of the pirates of Somalia
Bangi, 7 June 2010. -- In its latest warning alert in April 2010, the NATO Shipping Centre has warned international shipping liners to be extra vigilant while navigating in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalia coast. The centre has advised the shipping community to navigate 100 nautical miles away from the coast to avoid possible pirate attacks. The dramatic increase of high sea piracy in the areas is closely related to economic and political developments in Somalia itself.
Since 2005, the existence of at least two warring factions fighting for political power has brought the country into disarray. The Somali government could only exercise its authority in the capital, Mogadishu leaving the rest of the country lawless. The dire economic environment coupled with periods of long drought led the Somali people no choice but to resort to anything to survive. For those in the north and north-eastern coast of the country in particular, piracy is a seasonal activity. The anarchic political situation continues to force them into such activities, which is also part of the organized crime syndicates of warlords and hired thugs, businessmen and corrupted and unpaid government officers.
The Somalia coast and the Gulf of Aden have been the most dangerous Sea Lane of Communication (SLOC) area in the world. A report by the Kuala Lumpur based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said, in 2009; the Somali Coast and Gulf of Aden witnessed a total of 47 vessels hijacked with 867 crew members taken hostage. Worldwide, a total of 49 vessels hijacked and 1052 crew members were taken hostage, of which eight were killed. The statistics show that the two dangerous areas represent nearly 96% and 82% of the worldwide vessels hijacked and crew members taken hostage respectively.
The series of piracy attacks and high sea armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somalia Coast have raised great concern and renewed old debates regarding the international navigational safety in some important areas of SLOC. Although most of the vessels were later released when their owners agreed to pay undisclosed amounts of ransom, the hijacking crisis is far from over. The pirates, armed with only several AK-47s and rope ladders, show how audacious they are and how the raids were being carried out further and further out to sea.
The international community’s immediate response to the crisis was the despatch of navy patrol ships to the area. The European Union sent its warships to protect not only their ships but also those bound for trade in their respective countries. The United States also took a similar course of action. The Japanese government not only sent its Coast Guard to the Gulf of Aden, but was also planning to introduce a new Maritime Police Law for its military ships. The Law would give it power to arrest and detain suspected pirate ships anywhere around the globe.
Malaysia is no exception. The Malaysian government sent two training navy ships, KD Sri Indera Sakti and later KD Hang Tuah to the area after two of its cargo vessels were hijacked by the pirates. In August 2008, the MISC’s Bunga Melati 5 carrying 30,000 tons of petrochemicals to Singapore from Saudi Arabia were accosted with six crewmen held for ransom. It was the second incident involving a Malaysian registered vessel.
The Somalia case is a not a classic one. The Straits of Malacca was once identified as the most notorious area for the maritime community. Piracy attacks in the area reached its peak in 1997 coinciding with the Indonesian economic and political turmoil. Incidence of piracy continued when in 2004 a total of 38 piracy attacks were recorded. But the piracy attacks dwindled to only 7 and 2 reported cases in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
The surge of piracy attacks in the Somalia coast and the Gulf of Aden is a lesson that international community should learn from. Terrorist group such as Al-Qaeda has already taken its cue from the incidence. For the international community, having international fleet of foreign navies patrolling what have become the world's most dangerous waters is only a short term solution to the problem.
The littoral states such as Djibouti, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia and Egypt have to be aided through asset and financial assistance as a measure to protect global shipping in the area. Given the political and economic condition in Sudan, Somali and Djibouti focus should be given to Yemen and Saudi Arabia to develop their maritime monitoring capability. An initial strategic cooperation between these two littoral states with international fleet of foreign navies to man the Gulf of Aden area is a good start. The area could also learn from Southeast Asian region’s “Eyes in the Sky” joint effort, through which the piracy incidents have been reduced remarkably.
Next: How the problem could be resolved
Dr Kamarulnizam Abdullah is an associate professor in Regional Security at the International Relations and Strategic Studies Program, School of History, Politics, and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM.