Somalian piracy - A grave concern for all nations
The resurgence of piracy on the high seas, which was once a historic occurrence, has now become a routine feature, off the coast of East Africa, with hijackings being reported almost daily.
Statistics reveal that the attacks in 2009 increased by an astounding 96% (over 2008). They constitute more than half (53%) of global incidents; in tune with this, the value of ransoms paid have gone up.
For many Somalis, piracy has become "a line of business" to earn big money. That is the reason why piracy has taken such a hold in the country : It's the only multimillion-dollar industry there, and the one that actually works and pays for itself. The increased hijacking of vessels, off the Horn of Africa, reflects the world's neglect of Somalia's internal conflicts.
Today, Somalia is on the front pages of the International media for all the wrong reasons. This world attention comes after a long period of neglect ? of persistent internecine warfare ? a humanitarian crisis, that the world had largely ignored, as it didn"t affect anybody else till now.
The involvement of Somalis in piracy is rooted in the circumstances of an internal conflict since the early 1990"s. There has been, for years, no authority to enforce and regulate Somalia's fishing area along its coast ? itself one of the most extensive, in the whole of Africa. The result has been, that local Somali fishing fleets had no protection or "rights" over their country's coastline and "international" fleets have been able to misuse their waters and use up the country's fishing-stock. The grievances over this issue led local Somalis to seek to extract "license-fees" from the foreign fishermen.
The situation has now worsened, with large ransoms from these captures financing the increasingly lethal and sophisticated weapons, that have come into the hands of the pirates, with the result that they are now operating from large "mother-ships", capable of striking out much further from the coast than before.
Somalia's strategic position, at the Horn of Africa, means that pirates are able to assert their presence in a major way, brazenly conducting their hijacking operations in the shipping channels, in the process cutting into one of the important life-lines of world trade.
An estimated 20,000 cargo ships transit the Gulf of Aden every year, crossing the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, the Red Sea and onwards to the Suez Canal ? the shortest sea-link between Asia and Europe.
Because of the increased risks, insurance premiums are sky-rocketing. This cost will only multiply, if shipping companies have to re-route their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, which prolongs the journey by twelve to fifteen days. As freight rates in the maritime transport business are already hitting the rock-bottom and profit margins are down, it is only a matter of time, before such sharp increases in transportation costs will send commodity prices across the world shooting-up, further increasing inflation.
The current global economic situation makes the political and economic concerns in the world understandable. Already, several warships in the Gulf of Aden are committed to defend their own cargo vessels / trying to foil pirate attacks.
The Indian Navy has followed-up and has been doing a commendable job. These naval ships are, however, hardly sufficient to conduct effective security operations, in an area that is even larger than the Mediterranean Sea.
At present, the attacks are being confronted with armed guards on board vessels. Such action, however, will, at best, manage to a limited extent - rather than solve the problem of piracy and its consequences for world trade. The root causes of the problem lie in Somalia itself.
In that country, 2.5 million people (a third of the population) are now on the verge of starvation and appro 1 million are internally displaced. A new policy towards Somalia's crisis is needed. One of the requirements is developing an open mind to bring moderate factions into some sort of power-sharing arrangement in the government.
If the root of crisis are to be addressed, international community must find ways to play an active and constructive role in the situation, so as to bring lasting peace within.