Somali Pirates Widen Attacks to Indian Ocean, EU Admiral Says.
Pirates preying on commercial ships off the coast of Somalia are shifting attacks from the tightly patrolled Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean, the head of the European Union"s anti-piracy force said. Sea bandits are straying from the Gulf of Aden, the choke point leading to the Suez Canal, into 1 million square miles of ocean to evade the naval firepower assembled by the EU, NATO and countries such as China and Russia.
?We have a good deterrent effect in the Gulf of Aden,? U.K. Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, commander of the EU mission, told reporters in Brussels today. ?Over 2010 we"ll still see ships being taken. I suspect they"ll be a long way off the Somali coast, right out into the central part of the Indian Ocean.?
Piracy and armed robbery at sea reached a six-year peak in 2009, with Somalia accounting for more than half of the 406 attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Operating from base camps like one nicknamed ?Joe Cool? by international forces, Somali pirates mounted 217 attacks last year, hijacking 47 ships and taking 867 crew members hostage, the London-based IMB said last month.
Hijackings in the Gulf of Aden, the transit route for as many as 30,000 commercial ships annually, ebbed to two in the second half of 2009 from 27 in the year-earlier period, the EU said.
Lacking a functioning government for two decades, impoverished Somalia has degenerated into an incubator for pirates, who seized ships for ransoms estimated at $60 million to $80 million last year.
Numbers like that ?fuel the desire to take a chance on the high seas and try and seize a ship,? Hudson said. Pirates are now holding nine ships with 230 crew members hostage, he said.
?Several thousand? people make up Somalia"s pirate industry, ranging from boat maintenance crews and base operators to the ?chaps who go to sea,? the U.K. naval officer said said.
With as many as 12 warships plus air support, the EU force patrols the south of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and a swathe of the Indian Ocean as far as the Seychelles. EU leaders are debating whether to extend the mission past a planned December 2010 end date.