Solution needed for Somalia piracy

May 20, 2009 12:00 am

, KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 – Foreign warship patrols and dramatic shoot-outs will never eliminate piracy off Somalia, according to experts meeting here who said the crisis needed a long-term political solution.

They also called for foreign intervention to halt illegal fishing and dumping of toxic chemicals in Somalia’s territorial waters, saying the incursions were among the factors fuelling piracy.

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) which monitors piracy worldwide, said the multinational naval task force currently patrolling the troubled region was only a temporary measure.

"The naval presence will not completely bring piracy under control. It will help contain it until there is a political solution," he said after an international conference in the Malaysian capital which ended Tuesday.

"The ultimate answer is actually to have a political solution onshore and an accountable government."

A country of seven million people, Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.

Calls for more aggressive anti-piracy measures have risen as attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden have escalated — the IMB says there have been 122 attempted hijackings so far this year, compared to 111 during 2008.

Somali pirates have claimed that illegal fishing has deprived coastal communities of their livelihoods, and forced them to resort to hijacking ships and collecting increasingly large ransoms.

"The international community, with its warships, should catch fishermen from Europe and Asia who commit illegal fishing off Somalia," said Roger Middleton from the London-based think tank Chatham House.

Mukundan said that illegal fishing was likely an early trigger for pirates who claimed to be collecting informal "taxes".

"But now it has a dynamic of its own. The people involved are not necessarily deprived of their livelihood. Taxes are not collected by criminals. That is absolute nonsense," he said.

Today’s pirates have morphed into a sophisticated criminal ring with international ramifications, that have forced naval operations operating under US, European Union and NATO commands to patrol the region.

"Until people have other forms of work, piracy will continue to happen," said Middleton. "You cannot stop piracy with 30 international warships. You will need hundreds of warships."

The average income in Somalia is 667 dollars a year, while a pirate can expect to earn at least 10,000 dollars, he said.

"I don’t see an immediate end to piracy unless there is a government that works on land in Somalia," he said.

Alem Tsehaye, Eritrea’s ambassador in New Delhi, said the key would be a strong government in Somalia, where the current transitional administration is facing a serious challenge from Islamist insurgents.

"So far, no success has been achieved. The reason can be attributed to the simple fact that all attempts have failed to address the core issue of a united Somalia," he said.

Tsehaye also appealed for action to end infringements on Somali territory and resources.

"The dumping of toxic chemicals and continous illegal fishing on their coastal waters is a matter of great concern that urges them to take the law in their own hands in order to establish control of their waters," he said.

"One cannot conceive an isolated solution to piracy on the Somali coastlands."


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