Somali pirates are holding over 435 sailors hostage
Somali pirates are holding over 435 sailors hostage in the war-torn country’s eastern ports, despite an international naval operation intended to secure ships sailing across world’s most important sea-lanes from attack.
Figures gathered by the London-based International Chamber of Commerce’s Commercial Crimes Services show that while the total number of attacks has declined, the numbers of crew kidnapped and ships hijacked has not. The pirates have had more success with less effort.
On Saturday, pirates hijacked the Liberian-flagged Polar with a crew of 24 — one Romanian, three Greeks, four Montenegrins and 16 Filipinos. Another ship was attacked on Friday, and four on Thursday. Earlier this month, pirates took the Greek-flagged York and its 17 member crew, the Taiwanese fishing boat Feng Guo with 12 crew, and the Panamanian cargo ship Asphalt Venture with 15 crew.
There have been 140 attempted hijackings reported this year, down from 217 in 2009, however, the number of ships successfully taken so far this year this year already stands at 40, against 47 in the whole year. The number of crew kidnapped so far this year stands at 790 and experts fear the figure will soon cross last year’s number, 867. Some have been rescued, leaving the number still captive at just over 435.
Captain Mukundan, the ICC’s director, said: “The multinational naval fleet has been doing a great job, but it simply can’t be everywhere. It’s a very big ocean”.
Each hijacked ship and its crew will bring the pirates holding it a ransom of anywhere between €1.5 and €3.5m. The 435 sailors now in Somalia are those for whom deals have not yet been negotiated, or work for owners who either cannot or will not pay the ransom.
Peter Chalk, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, estimates Somali pirates made up to €107m last year, with one case involving the Greek-owned Maran Centarus bringing in €5m.
The US, UK, Europe, China, India and several other countries started joint naval operations in 2008, in a bid protect the 25,000 ships which transit through the Indian Ocean sea-lanes each year, carry much of the world’s trade and energy supplies
The naval mission has had some successes. Last week, German and UK naval forces rescued the Beluga Fortune and its 16 crew. The Danish navy’s Esberne Snare also destroyed a pirate mother-ship.
But pirates have responded by heading east and south into seas not patrolled by the anti-piracy force. Last week, an attack was reported 350 nautical miles west of the Indian port of Mangalore.
Few shipping companies have been willing to invest in private security to protect their crew, which can cost as much as €17,000 per trip. The reason is simple: the global recession has hit the industry hard, and the piracy threat has already pushed up insurance costs.
Both Somalia’s fragile government and the jihadist groups it is battling see the pirate cartels as tactical allies, as well as source of cash.
Eventually, an Indian naval officer involved in the counter-piracy mission told The Telegraph, a solution will have to involve dismantling the infrastructure of pirate gangs operating out of Somali ports—a fraught military enterprise no country wishes to become involved in.